Rhus aromatica Aiton

Fragrant Sumac


CC = Amb
CW = 5
MOC = 90

© DETenaglia

Family - Anacardiaceae

Habit - Shrub, usually dioecious.

Stems - Ascending to erect, to 1.5 m, multiple from base, . Branches nearly glabrous to densely hairy, aromatic when bruised.

Leaves - Alternate, trifoliate, petiolate, deciduous. Petioles 1.0-2.5 cm long. Leaflets variable in shape and lobing, nearly glabrous to densely pubescent, the terminal leaflet sessile, broadly ovate to rhombic, 4-9 cm long, 2-8 cm wide, scalloped or toothed near the tip, entire and angled at the base.

Rhus_aromatica_leaf1.jpg Leaf.

© SRTurner

Rhus_aromatica_leaf.jpg Pressed leaf.

© DETenaglia

Inflorescences - Terminal, small panicles with spicate branches, 2-6 cm long, 1-3 cm wide, the branches occasionally relatively small and appearing as dense clusters of flowers. Flower stalks 1-3 mm long.

Rhus_aromatica_catkins.jpg Flower buds.

© DETenaglia

Rhus_aromatica_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescences.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Sepals 5, united at base, lanceolate, 1.0-1.4 mm long, 0.3-0.4 mm wide, broadly rounded at the tip, the surfaces glabrous, reddish brown, the margins with nonglandular hairs. Petals 5, free, oblong-obovate, 1.6-2.5 mm long, rounded at the tip, glabrous or hairy on the inner surface, yellow. Stamens 5, erect, yellowish. Anthers, 0.5 mm in diameter, yellow-orange. Style 1, 3-lobed. Ovary surrounded by yellow disk.

Rhus_aromatica_flowers.jpg Flowers.

© DETenaglia

Rhus_aromatica_flowers2.jpg Flowers.

© SRTurner

Fruits - Drupes 5-7 mm long, 4-6 mm wide, red, slightly flattened, pubescent with dense, minute, stout, red glandular hairs and sparse to dense, white to colorless nonglandular hairs.

Rhus_aromatica_fruits.jpg Fruits.

© SRTurner

Rhus_aromatica_fruits2.jpg Fruits.

© SRTurner

Flowering - March - May.

Habitat - Rocky open woods, glades, bluffs, savannas, fields, roadsides, railroads.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Other info. - This is a common and highly variable species which occurs, at least in some form, throughout Missouri and most of the continental U.S. The leaves alone are generally sufficient for identification of the most common form of the plant. The central leaflet is not stalked (which serves to differentiate this plant from poison ivy, which has a stalked terminal leaflet), but instead is distinctively long-tapered back to the node. The early spring inflorescences, and the hairy fruits which appear later, are also very distinctive. Pubescence of leaves and twigs is variable.

This species has been variously subdivided. Yatskievych's Flora of Missouri recognizes two varieties occurring in Missouri. The var. aromatica has an unlobed terminal leaflet and flowers before the leaves form, and is the more widespread variety in Missouri. The var. serotina, which has a 3-lobed terminal leaflet and which flowers during or after expansion of the leaves, is found predominantly toward the western side of the state. A third variety, var. trilobata, is found farther west and is sometimes elevated to species rank.

The leaves and stems of the plant are fragrant when crushed or bruised. The fruits, as with those of other species in the genus, can be brewed into a pleasantly tart beverage. Individuals who are hypersensitive to poison ivy or oak should avoid this tea, as it contains trace amounts of urushiols, the allergenic substances contained in those plants.

Photographs taken at Danville Conservation Area, Montgomery County, MO., 3-30-04, and at Guntersville State Park, AL., 5-22-04 (DETenaglia); also in Weldon Spring Conservation Area, St. Charles County, MO, 5-18-2008, Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, MO, 5-27-2015 and 5-17-2023, and along the Katy Trail near Dutzow, Warren County, MO, 4-17-2018 (SRTurner).