Fragrant Sumac Rhus aromatica Gro-Low

Aromatic/Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)Mention “sumac” in some circles and the word “poison” often comes up. Try it sometime. It doesn’t help when you’re discussing Aromatic Sumac and someone points out the distinctive trifoliate leaves and shouts, “See! Poison Ivy! Same thing!”

“I was once walking the woods with a man and he saw a paper cup down in the base of an aromatic sumac bush. He is a neat and conscientious man, and he couldn’t abide the litter. ‘Why would someone throw trash into a clump of poison ivy?’ he asked. I didn’t want to correct him at the time since his mild indignation seemed to be more important.

He very carefully snaked his arm down amidst the branches of the sumac and snatched the cup. Then he carefully extracted his arm, saying ‘I can catch poison ivy just by looking at the plant.’

Later that evening, as we were sitting in our tent, he showed me his arm, and sure enuf, it was red and inflamed. He reported that it itched terribly. I know that many people mis-identify aromatic sumac for poison ivy, but this was the first time I’d ever seen someone contract poison ivy from a sumac. I didn’t have the heart to correct him.”

Aromatic Sumac (or “Automatic Sumac”, as it’s known in our backyard—it’s fun having a spouse with an accent) is related to Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), but waaay more benign. Both of these plants, along with the real Poison Sumac (Rhus vernix L. are in the Anacardiaceae family, which also contains cashews and, sometimes, pistachios, depending on the authority. But since Poison Sumac has never been documented in Missouri, we won’t worry about it here.

Fragrant Sumac FlowrsSo, if Aromatic, or Fragrant, Sumac isn’t these things, what is it? For us, it’s a medium-sized shrub in our backyard, which likes to extend exploring arms onto our deck. Smush the aforementioned trifoliate leaves and it emits a pleasant, somewhat citrusy smell, and those leaves follow the sumac tradition of turning pretty shades of red, orange and yellow in the fall. Its yellowish flowers show up before the leaves do in the spring and yield small clumps of reddish berries that can hang on all winter, if the birds don’t get them, and can persist into the spring (although ours didn’t).

This native is known to be tolerant of different soil types and habitats, shade conditions, and soil moisture differences. It seems not to be bothered much by pests or diseases and is drought resistant, and except for trimming back those curious branches that like to explore decks, pretty much requires no maintenance on our part.

Part 2

2012-11-13 08:39:45 by Nurseryman75

In North America, the Smooth Sumac (R. glabra) and the Staghorn Sumac (R. typhina) are sometimes used to make a beverage termed "sumac-ade," "Indian lemonade" or "rhus juice". This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth and sweetening it. Native Americans also used the leaves and drupes of the Smooth and Staghorn Sumacs combined with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures.
Species including the Fragrant Sumac (R. aromatica), the Littleleaf Sumac (R. microphylla), the Skunkbush Sumac (R. trilobata), the Smooth Sumac and the Staghorn Sumac are grown for ornament, either as the wild types or as cultivars

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