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RHUS glabra

Image of Rhus glabra

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Anacardiaceae

Botanical Name

RHUS glabra

Plant Common Name

Smooth Sumac

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

Producing brilliant scarlet fall foliage and edible small red fruits, the smooth sumac is only suitable for spacious landscapes. This deciduous, bushy, suckering shrub to very small tree is native to sunny, dry lands all across North America: from the southern half of Canada to northeastern Mexico. It's the only tree/shrub species native to all of the contiguous United States. Leaning, crooked but beautiful trunks and open branching develops on the smooth sumac.

Distinguish this sumac species from others by the hairless (smooth) new shoots that grow from the branches each spring. Mature leaves comprise 15 to 31 lance-shaped leaflets with toothed edges. Leaf color is deep green, perhaps with a hint of blue-green. In summer's warmth, branch tips produce erect, cone-shaped panicle clusters of yellowish green flowers. Plants are either male or female as determined by the sex of the flowers. On female plants, the blooms are followed by clusters of fuzzy deep red to sienna-tinted fruits in autumn. These fruits are edible but loaded with seeds, and may be used to create a drink akin to lemonade. Fall foliage is always a robust rich red or scarlet. The fruit clusters persist well into winter.

Grow the smooth sumac in abundant sunshine in any well-drained soil. It is especially useful to plant in low-nutrient, rocky soils that tend to be on the dry side (where even junipers have trouble growing). Since this shrub suckers and creates a thicket of indefinite width, do not place it in too small of a landscape. It's likely best used on hillsides or the edges of woodlands and prairies and allowed to randomly spread and naturalized. In more manicured areas, be prepared to continually prune away suckers to contain the colony's spread. It's possible to create a more traditional-looking small tree form if suckers are removed and a lone trunk is permitted to develop.

The smooth sumac native to the Rocky Mountains is often botanically distinguished as variety cismontana. It displays far fewer leaflets per compound leaf and the shrub tends to mature at a shorter height.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    8 - 1

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    2 - 8

  • Sunset Zone

    1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17

  • Plant Type

    Shrub

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    8'-20' / 2.4m - 6.1m (10)

  • Width

    8'-25' / 2.4m - 7.6m

  • Bloom Time

    Summer

  • Native To

    North America, United States, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, North-Central United States, Central United States, South-Central United States, Western United States, Northwestern United States, Southwestern United States, Canada, Mexico

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Fast

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Thicket/Colonizing

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    Yellow Green

  • Fruit Color

    Red, Sienna

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Red, Orange Red

  • Bark Color

    Sandy Brown, Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Corky

  • Usage

    Mixed Border, Screening / Wind Break

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes