Rhus is a genus of woody shrubs and trees, all with the leaves spirally arranged and pinnately compound (some species are trifoliate). The flowers are in dense panicles or spikes 5-30 cm long, each flower very small, creamy white, greenish or red, with five petals. The fruit form dense clusters of reddish drupes. Commonly called sumac or sumach, the approximately 250 species of Rhus are placed in the family Anacardiaceae. Some species (including poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac), often placed in this genus, are here treated in the genus Toxicodendron, which have grayish-white fruit. The name derives from the Greek name for sumac, rhous.
These plants are found in subtropical and warm temperate regions of the world, and are most abundant in South Africa.
The hairy covering of the drupes is harvested and used as a spice in some Middle-Eastern countries. In North America, the smooth sumac, Rhus glabra, and the staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina, are sometimes used to make a beverage, termed "sumac-ade" or "Indian lemonade" or "rhus juice". This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing the active principle off the drupes, then straining the liquid through a cotton cloth and sweetening it.
Species including the fragrant sumac Rhus 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 type or as cultivars.
Propagation and Control
Sumac propagates both by seeds, which are spread by birds and other animals through feces, and new sprouts from roots, forming large clonal colonies. Mowing of sumac is not a good control measure as the wood is springy resulting in jagged, sharp pointed stumps when mowed. The plant will quickly recover with new growth after mowing. See Nebraska Extension Service publication G97-1319 (http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/range/g1319.htm) for suggestions as to control.
Species in Africa:
- Rhus laevigata
- Rhus lancea (Willow rhus)
- Rhus lucida (Shiny-leaved rhus)
- Rhus viminalis
Species in Asia:
- Rhus chinensis (Chinese sumac)
- Rhus hypoleuca
- Rhus javanica
- Rhus punjabensis (Punjab sumac)
Species in Australia:
Species in the Mediterranean region:
- Rhus coriaria (Tanner's sumac)
- Rhus pentaphylla
- Rhus tripartita
Species in eastern North America:
- Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)
- Rhus copallina (Winged sumac/shining sumac)
- Rhus glabra (Smooth sumac)
- Rhus lanceolata (Prairie sumac)
- Rhus michauxii (Michaux's sumac) Conservation status: Endangered
- Rhus typhina (Staghorn sumac)
Species in western North America include:
- Rhus choriophylla
- Rhus laurina (Laurel sumac)
- Rhus integrifolia (Lemonade sumac)
- Rhus microphylla (Desert sumac), Littleleaf sumac
- Rhus ovata (Sugar sumac)
- Rhus trilobata (Skunkbush sumac)
- Rhus virens (Evergreen sumac)
Species in Mexico and Central America include:
Species in the Pacific (Oceania):
- Rhus sandwicensis A. Gray is an endemic species from the Hawaiian Islands called neleau.