Rhus glabra (Smooth Sumac) is a deciduous shrub native to eastern and central North America. It belongs to the Anacardiaceae family, which includes other sumac species.
Smooth Sumac is known for its attractive foliage, autumn colors, and distinctive clusters of fruit. It typically grows to a height of 6 to 15 feet (1.8 to 4.6 meters) with an upright, spreading form. The branches are smooth, hence the name "Smooth Sumac."
The leaves of Smooth Sumac are compound and pinnately divided, consisting of multiple leaflets arranged in pairs along a central stem. The leaflets are lanceolate in shape with serrated edges. During the growing season, the foliage has a green color that turns shades of orange, red, and purple in the fall, creating a spectacular display of autumn colors.
Smooth Sumac produces dense, cone-shaped clusters of small, greenish-yellow flowers in late spring or early summer. The flowers are followed by clusters of fuzzy, red fruit called drupes. The fruit matures in late summer and persists on the plant throughout winter, providing a food source for birds and wildlife.
This species is adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions and can tolerate both dry and moist soils. It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Smooth Sumac is often found in open woodlands, prairies, fields, and along roadsides. It is well-suited for naturalistic or native plantings and is valued for its ability to provide erosion control on slopes.
In addition to its ornamental qualities, Smooth Sumac has cultural and historical significance. The dried fruit clusters have been used by Native American tribes to make a tart beverage called "sumac lemonade" or "Indian lemonade." The branches of Smooth Sumac have also been used for basket weaving and as a natural dye source.
Smooth Sumac is generally considered non-toxic, but it's always advisable to wear gloves when handling any plant and to take precautions if you have known allergies or sensitivities.