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Poison Sumac Information

Poison Sumac


Poison sumac – Toxicodendron Vernix, grows in swamps, bogs, depressions, and other wet areas. Like both poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac produces urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an itching rash in most people who touch it.
Poison sumac basically manifests itself as a woody shrub or small tree. Unlike both poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac is not an overly common plant.


Poison sumac is a woody shrub or a small, slender tree that measures 5′-20′ tall. The leaves are pinnately compound (meaning – the leaflets grow from several places along the stalk) and alternate along the stem. The plant is deciduous so the leaves fall in the autumn turning brilliant orange to red in color. Each leaf stem contains 7 to 15 leaflets that are usually 2″ to 4″ long and 1″ to 2″ wide, and elliptic

Distinguish poison sumac shrubs from their harmless namesakes and consider the latter for great fall foliage

to oblong in outline. The lower leaf surface is lighter green and the edges are smooth (not toothed). The central leaf stalk is typically reddish colored.

New stems are smooth and reddish, but they gradually turn tan to light gray with age. These light-colored leafless stems can look deceptively like other non-toxic shrubs or trees during the winter. Small greenish flowers are followed by white berries similar to poison ivy.


As can be seen in the map, poison sumac is found in most of the eastern United States, between Texas and Florida in the south, to Minnesota and Quebec in the north. Poison sumac is generally found in wet soil. The picture above was taken at the University of Michigan – Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor, MI. It was on the side of a hill in very wet soil.

Poison:poison sumac distribution is primarily in eastern North America

Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that often develops into a red rash or flesh colored bumps and blistering. The rash can be treated with Calamine lotion or other over the counter remedies such as oatmeal baths and baking soda. In severe cases hospitalization may be required or if the plant has been ingested.

Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the rash if it comes into contact with the skin.

The fluids released by scratching the blisters do not spread the poison or the rash. The fluid in the blisters is produced by the body and it is not by urushiol.

Staghorn Sumac – Rhus Typhina

Staghorn Sumac

staghorn sumac

Driving around during September in New York you will eventually come across a group of small trees growing in dense stands. The leaves will be a deep red and large conical red hairy fruits called drupes may be at the end of branches. This is the common Staghorn Sumac which is a deciduous shrub to small tree. It grows quite aggressively. Because staghorn sumac can grow by its roots (rhizomes), and once established it can be a pain to remove.


Staghorn Sumac grows 10’ – 35’ tall. As can be seen in the picture, the leaves are alternate & compound growing approximately 24” long with 10 – 32 serrate leaflets. Each leaf grows to 12” long. The leaf stalks and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. Mature trunks are smooth and hairless. Interestingly, only female plants produce flowers and berries. The red berries grow at the end of branches. The plant flowers from May to July and fruit, the drupes, ripen from June to September. As can be seen in the pictures, they grow in upright bunches. Each cluster of drupes may contain 100 to 700 seeds


Staghorn sumac grows in gardens, lawns, the edges of forests, and wasteland. It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in open areas which are not already established by other trees.

staghorn sumac branches can have tiny hairsLocation:

Staghorn sumac is found throughout the eastern half of the United States and Canada from western Ontario, south to Oklahoma into the Gulf Coast States and eastward to all the Atlantic States and eastern Canada.


The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a lemonade-like drink.

Notes of Interest:

Staghorn sumac spreads by seeds, and by its roots, rhizomes, to form “stands”.

The staghorn sumac derives its name from the countless tiny hairs covering its branches and resembling the tines of a deer’s antler when in velvet.

All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as a natural dye.

Native Americans used the berries from staghorn sumac to make a drink.

The berries and bark are an important source of food for birds (upland games birds as well as song birds) and small mammals.

Staghorn sumac can form with either male or female plants.