Poison Sumac Identification

Overview

Poison sumac is a shrub or small tree that is indigenous to the United States. The plant is attractive and would probably be used within the landscape as an ornamental, if not for one significant trait. The plant exudes a substance from its leaves, similar to that of poison ivy or poison oak, which can produce severe skin irritations, including redness, itching, swelling and blisters and the contact site.

Habitat

Poison sumac can be found growing in forests and natural areas throughout the central and eastern United States and provinces of Canada. It is most commonly located in wetter areas and can be found along stream banks, near bogs and ponds, and in bottom land.

Form

The plant is a shrub or small tree that grows from 6 to 20 feet tall and can spread equally as wide. The shape of the plant is rounded to oval. Poison sumac has been fairly open canopy. The plant resembles other forms of sumac including staghorn sumac and is often confused for other species.

Trunk, Bark And Branches

Poison sumac usually grows from a single leader trunk. The bark is mottled light and dark gray color, smooth, and relatively thin. The branches radiate upward and outward from the central trunk. As the tree grows, lower leaves die back, leaving a conspicuous leaf scar on the trunk and branches of the tree.

Leaves

The leaves of poison sumac are compound; made up of a central stem with leaflets that are opposite each other and run down either side of the stem. The stem is between 10 and 20 inches long and often red in color. There are between 9 and 13 leaflets on each stem. Each leaflet is oval in shape with a point at the end and deeply veined. The size of the leaflet is approximately 2 to 3 inches in length and 1 to 2 inches wide. The leaflets are smooth, shiny and bright green with a central rib running along the center of the leaf. On the underside of the leaf, the rib is colored red. In the fall, the leaves turn from green to shades of pink, orange, red, and purple.

Flowers and Fruit

Poison sumac flowers form on long stems in clusters. They are tiny, green, and inconspicuous. The fruit starts out as clusters of tiny green berries that become hard and white as they mature. These berries persist in winter and gradually fall from the tree as the season progresses. The berries provide a winter food source for birds and other small animals.

Keywords: poison sumac identification, poison sumac leaves, sumac irritation

About this Author

Located in Jacksonville, Fla, Frank Whittemore has been a writer and content strategist for over 15 years, providing corporate communications services to Fortune 500 companies. Whittemore writes on topics that stem from his fascination with nature, the environment, science, medicine and technology.