Content Detail

Smooth sumac is a native plant found throughout the eastern United States. A good choice for difficult sites, mass plantings, screening, and highway plantings. The dark green summer foliage turns an excellent yellow to an orange-red-purple combination in fall. Female plants produce scarlet, hairy terminal fruits in summer and persist into winter. 

This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Cashew, Sumac
  • Family (botanic) Anacardiaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Compact tree (10-15 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Dry soil, Moist, Sandy soil, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances clay soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought, Road salt
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, early summer, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Yellow
  • Shape or form Irregular, Multi-stemmed, Thicket-forming, Upright
  • Growth rate Fast

Size & Form:

Smooth sumac reaches 10 to 15 feet high and wide. It is a large, colony-forming, native shrub best used in mass plantings. Large fern-like foliage gives plants a tropical appearance.

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Commonly found growing along roadways and fencerows, in prairies, and fields throughout North America and Canada. C-Value: 1  

Bark color and texture: 

Mature bark is thin, gray, and develops fissures. Young stems are stout, smooth, and turn wine-red.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

Alternate, shiny, pinnately compound leaves with 15 to 25 leaflets. Leaflets are oblong with toothed margins. They have dark green upper surfaces and are lighter and smooth beneath. The fall color is a stunning combination of yellows, oranges, reds, and purples.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Dioecious, meaning that plants are male or female. Large terminal clusters of greenish-yellow flowers in June and July. Flower heads can be up to 10 inches tall.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

Female plants develop upright, scarlet-red, hairy fruits (drupes) which persistent into winter.

Plant care:

Often found growing in dry sandy to gravelly soils, smooth sumac is tolerant of clay soils and is found in moist but not wet conditions. Older stems tend to die back but new stems are always emerging. Spreads by underground suckers forming large colonies. Full sun brings out the best fall color.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Cankers, leaf spots, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt, and rusts are problems. Tolerant of black walnut toxicity and aerial salt spray.


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