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How to Identify Poison Sumac

Poison Sumac is most prevalent in the eastern region of the U.S., although it sometimes grows further west, into the central areas of the country. Be alert for poison sumac in swampy areas, looking for shrubs or small trees with fruit clusters growing amidst the leaves and branches. During the growing season, poison sumac has leafy green branches that gradually turn a bright orange or red during the autumn months.

Look for small trees and shrubs with paired leaves along the leaf stems and one leaf at the tip of the stem. The leaf stems of poison sumac are red and they appear like feather fronds with between seven and 13 smooth leaves along each stem.

Avoid plants with leaves as described in step one and with clusters of yellowish flowers that mature into whitish fruit. The flowers and fruit droop among the leaves and branches.

Differentiate between poison sumac and nonpoisonous sumac by looking at the leaves and fruit. Leaves of nonpoisonous sumac have jagged edges, are more numerous in number and have red fruits that grow from the ends of the leaf stems instead of the centers.

Poison Sumac And Pets

Poison sumac is a shrub or small tree differentiated from the common sumac, staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) growing along U.S. highways and roads in USDA zones 4 through 8, by its leaves and berries. The margins of the leaves of staghorn sumac are jagged and the stems are hairy. Poison sumac grows in wet, swampy and heavily wooded areas, whereas the native staghorn sumac grows in dry regions, often in poor soil where other plants don't survive. Urushiol is extremely potent; the tiniest amount can produce a nasty rash. All parts of poison sumac -- stems, leaves and roots -- contain urushiol. Urushiol is present in dead plant parts and can be inhaled if plants are burned. Stroking a pet that has come in contact with poison sumac or other urushiol-containing plants may cause redness and swelling on your skin in 12 to 48 hours. Only skin areas that were directly in contact with urushiol will develop the rash. The oozing blisters don't spread the rash because they don't contain urushiol. Water alone will not remove urushiol oil from your pet's fur. To further protect yourself from contact with urushiol, use an over-the-counter barrier cream containing the chemical bentoquatam.


All portions of a poison sumac shrub are poisonous during every season of the year. People who have sensitivity to the poisonous substance in poison sumac will experience blisters usually within 24 hours of contacting the plant. Skin reactions can occur by either touching the plant or touching objects that have brushed up against the plant (clothing and animals, for example).

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