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Rhus aromatica

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rhus aromatica
Fragrant sumac: Autumnal color
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Anacardiaceae
Genus: Rhus
R. aromatica
Binomial name
Rhus aromatica

Rhus aromatica, the fragrant sumac,[1] is a deciduous shrub in the family Anacardiaceae native to North America.[2] It is found in southern Canada (Alberta to Quebec) and nearly all of the lower 48 states except peninsular Florida.[3]


Fragrant sumac is a woody plant with a rounded form that grows to around 2 ft (0.6 m) to 5 ft (1.5 m) tall and 5 ft (1.5 m) to 10 ft (3.0 m) wide. The plant develops yellow flowers in clusters on short lateral shoots in March through May. The flower is a small, dense inflorescence that usually opens before the plant's leaves do.[2] Flowers and drupes appear earlier in the year than on other Sumac species.[4]

The species is polygamodioecious (mostly dioecious, primarily bearing flowers of only one sex, but with either a few flowers of the opposite sex or a few bisexual flowers on the same plant). Male (staminate) flowers develop in yellowish catkins, while female (pistillate) flowers develop in short bright yellow panicles at the ends of branches.[2]

Pollinated flowers develop clusters of 5 mm (0.2 in) to 7 mm (0.3 in) hairy red drupes containing a single nutlet during June through August. The fruits become an important winter food for birds and small mammals that can remain on the plant until spring if not eaten.[2]

The plant's alternate compound leaves have three leaflets that vary in shape, lobing, and margination. The unstalked leaflets are ovate to rhomboid, more or less wedge-shaped at the base, coarsely-toothed and usually shiny glabrous above. The terminal leaflet is 3 cm (1.2 in) to 6.5 cm (2.6 in) long.[2]

The plant's green to glossy blue-green summer foliage becomes orange to red or purple in the fall. Stems are thin and brownish-gray, with rust-colored lenticels when young. Leaves and stems emit a lemon scent when crushed. There are no terminal buds, but overwintering male catkins are present.[2]


Rhus aromatica belongs to the plant family Anacardiaceae and the genus Rhus. Rhus is a Greek word for Sumac. The specific epithet, aromatica, simply means fragrant.[4]

Subordinate Taxa[5]

  • Rhus aromatica Aiton var. aromatica
  • Rhus aromatica Aiton var. arenaria (Greene) Fernald
  • Rhus aromatica Aiton var. serotina (Greene) Rehder "Konza"

Fragrant sumac has three-leafleted lobed leaves that resemble those of its relative, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens).[6] However, both poison ivy and poison oak have central leaflet with a leaflet stem, or petiole, whereas fragrant sumac's does not.[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Fragrant sumac is common along the forested eastern margins of the Great Plains and in open or otherwise disturbed sites on the margins of the Gulf Coast prairie. It grows at a range of sites including open rocky woodlands, valley bottoms, lower rocky slopes, and roadsides. It is not widely used for landscape plantings but can be used as a ground cover, especially on banks. The plant's colorful fall foliage is its main ornamental feature.[2]

The plant grows in deep shade to full sun and well-drained slightly acid soils to well-drained alkaline with a pH range of about 6.0 to 8.5. It has a shallow, fibrous root system and is easily transplanted. Some of its branches can trail upon the ground and develop roots. The plant can ground sucker to form a colony.[2][8] Developed thickets provide cover for small mammals and birds.[5]

Rhizomes and roots in the soil allow R. aromatica to sprout following fire events.[9]

Common diseases and pests[edit]

Fragrant sumac has no major diseases or pests. It has been known to be affected by leaf spots, rust, aphids, scale, and mites. Nipple galls are a somewhat common problem affecting foliage appearance, but damage is cosmetic.[4] Cultivars of fragrant sumac, such as Konza, have been found to be resistant to leaf rust and insect damage.[5]


Historically, Native American tribes have used fragrant sumac to treat health problems and various illnesses. The ripe berries were made into a tart drink. In addition to this, the leaves and bark were used in leather making due to their high tannin content. To create a smoking mixture, the leaves were combined with tobacco.[5]

Though not popular for landscaping, R. aromatica can be used to stabilize soil and prevent erosion on embankments or hard-to-cover areas.[10][11]

A study showed strong antiviral activity against two types of herpes in vitro using aqueous extractions of R. aromatica.[12]

Conservation status in the United States[edit]

Rhus aromatica is listed as of special concern and believed extirpated in Connecticut. However, this status applies only to native populations.[13] In Washington, Connecticut, and New Hampshire it is considered introduced.[3] Globally, fragrant sumac is listed as G5 or secure.[14]


  1. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Rhus aromatica". The PLANTS Database (plants.usda.gov). Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved October 21, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h (1) Nesom, Guy; USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center; Biota of North America Program (BONAP). "Plant Guide for Fragrant Sumac: Rhus aromatica Ait" (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 14, 2021. Retrieved September 14, 2021.
    (2) "Fragrant sumac: Rhus aromatica". Lisle, Illinois: Morton Arboretum. Retrieved September 14, 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Rhus aromatica". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "Rhus aromatica (Aromatic Sumac, Fragrant Sumac, Lemon Sumac, Polecat Bush, Polecat Sumac, Sumac) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox". plants.ces.ncsu.edu. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d "Rhus aromatica Aiton var. serotina (Greene) Rehde". USDA Plants Database. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  6. ^ "Know Your Natives – "Leaves of three, let it be"…usually". Arkansas Native Plant Society. June 10, 2014. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  7. ^ (1) "Poison Ivy...or not?". Ozarks Walkabout. Davis-Allman. April 10, 2012. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved September 14, 2021.
    (2) "Eastern Poison Ivy vs Fragrant Sumac". bplant.org. Archived from the original on March 7, 2021. Retrieved September 14, 2021.
  8. ^ Highshoe, Gary L. (1988). Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. pp. 662–663. ISBN 9780471288794.
  9. ^ "Species: Rhus aromatica". www.fs.usda.gov. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  10. ^ "Rhus aromatica - Plant Finder". www.missouribotanicalgarden.org. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  11. ^ "Rhus aromatica (Aromatic Sumac, Fragrant Sumac, Lemon Sumac, Polecat Bush, Polecat Sumac, Sumac)". North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Retrieved November 13, 2023.
  12. ^ Reichling, J.; Neuner, A.; Neuner, A.; Sharaf, M.; Harkenthal, M.; Schnitzler, P. (August 1, 2009). "Antiviral activity of Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) extract against two types of herpes simplex viruses in cell culture". Die Pharmazie. 64 (8): 538–541. doi:10.1691/ph.2009.9597. ISSN 0031-7144. PMID 19746844.
  13. ^ "Connecticut's Endangered, Threatened and Special Concern Species 2015". State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Bureau of Natural Resources. Retrieved 28 January 2018. (Note: This list is newer than the one used by plants.usda.gov and is more up-to-date.)
  14. ^ "Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac". NatureServe Explorer 2.0. Retrieved December 5, 2023.

External links[edit]