smooth sumac (Rhus glabra)
Rocky Mountain sumac
Rhus borealis Greene
Rhus calophylla Greene
Rhus glabra L. var. cismontana (Greene) Cockerell
Rhus glabra L. var. laciniata Carrière
Rhus glabra L. var. occidentalis Torr.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of smooth sumac
is Rhus glabra L. There are no infrataxa. Smooth sumac and staghorn
sumac (Rhus typhina) hybridize.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Smooth sumac stems
are erect, rigid, glabrous, with raised air pores, somewhat waxy, reddish
purple when young, grayish when mature, forming dense thickets. The
stems are alternate, stalked, 12 to 20 inches long, odd-pinnately compound;
leaflets 11-31, lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate, 2.5 to 4 inches long, .75 to
1.25 inch wide, dark green and glossy above, whitish below; margins coarse-
ly toothed; tips pointed. The inflorescences are panicles, dense, pyramid-
shaped, 4 to 10 inches long, terminal. Flowers are staminate, pistillate,
and bisexual. Staminate flowers are small, yellowish green; calyces 5-part-
ed, petals 5, distinct, ovate in shape. The 5 stamens have yellow anthers;
pistillate flowers similar, in smaller clusters, more densely flowered while
the stigmas are yellowish. The fruits are drupes, spherical in shape, red,
pubescent, inconspicuous, with erect clusters 4 to 6 inches tall. The seeds
are smooth and yellowish.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Smooth sumac develops rapidly; research-
ers have reported that the 1.5 months required for flower, fruit and seed
development in smooth sumac is much faster than that reported for other
members of the Anacardiaceae family. Flowers may develop into conspic-
uous red fruits after only 6 weeks. Smooth sumac produces at least some
seed nearly every year. The seeds are widely distributed by many species
of birds and mammals.
Smooth sumac also readily reproduces vegetatively. It spreads through
rhizomes to form large, dense thickets. The rhizomes may produce new
shoots as far as 30 feet (1-9 m) from the parent plant.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Smooth sumac grows in a wide range of
habitats including dry upland prairies, roadsides, waste areas, and edges
of woods, open woodlands, prairies, dry rocky hillsides, canyons, and
protected ravines. It often forms dense thickets in prairies. It is common
in disturbed areas and is often found along roadsides, in dry waste areas,
and in old fields. Smooth sumac grows well on shallow to moderately deep,
dry to moist, coarse or variably textured soils. It grows best on slightly
acidic to neutral soils (pH 6.5-7.0) with sunny exposures.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Smooth sumac is a climax indicator in a
number of shrub and grassland communities.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Smooth sumac renews growth early in
the year, with flowers developing before the leaves. The fruits appear in
August and September and remain through the winter. The leaves turn
bright red in the autumn.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Smooth sumac is distributed widely
throughout most of the contiguous U.S. and into Mexico. It does not
occur in California. In Canada it extends from Lake Huron to central
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Shrub specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
The specific distribution for smooth sumac has not been determined.
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Smooth sumac is
a climax indicator in a number of shrub-grassland communities. In eastern
Washington climax mountain grasslands once dominated by smooth sumac
and perennial grasses have been overgrazed and are now smooth sumac/
cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) communities. Smooth sumac grows well
in both the mountain brush and pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.)
Dominant associates in Appalachian pine-hardwood forests are pitch pine
(Pinus rigida), scarlet oak (Quercus coccinia), chestnut oak (Quercus
prinus), and mountain-laurel (Kalmia latifolia).
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Birds, insects, and mammals consume
smooth sumac fruits and leaves. Because the drupes persist through the
fall and winter months, smooth sumac provides a ready food source when
other foods are scarce or unavailable. It is browsed by deer, particularly
during the winter months when more preferred browse is scarce. This
species provides little forage for domestic livestock.
Smooth sumac fruits are palatable to many species of birds and small
mammals. Wild turkey, gray partridge, and mourning dove also feed on
the fruits. Smooth sumac is moderately palatable to wintering mule deer.
In general, however, smooth sumac is relatively unpalatable to most big
game and domestic livestock.
Smooth sumac, which often grows in dense thickets, provides cover for
many birds and mammals.
Smooth sumac is rated low in potential for short-term revegetation and
moderate in potential for long-term revegetation. It is useful in controlling
soil erosion and for roadside planting.
Smooth sumac is planted as an ornamental because of its colorful fall
foliage. It is recommended in Utah for xeriscaping due to its drought
tolerance. It is also planted as a shelterbelt species and on depleted game
ranges and is recommended for use in "living" snow fences where wildlife
habitat improvement is an objective.
Laboratory analyses of smooth sumac plant tissue indicate the presence
of antifungal and antibacterial compounds.
Native Americans used the drupes medicinally to treat sunburn and
sores and to make red and black dyes; the flowers to treat sore mouths;
the roots to treat sore throats and to make a yellow dye; and sometimes
smoked the dried red leaves.
Young sprouts were eaten in salads.
Crooked Run Valley