Fragrant Sumac

Common Names:
Fragrant Sumac, Skunkbrush
Scientific name:
Rhus aromatica
Elevation range:
<6,000 ft.
Flowering Months:
March, April
Height | Length:
6 - 12 ft.
Life Cycle | Lifeform:
Pollinator or food source for:
Pungent scent
Ancestral Usage:
ritual or tobacco, textile dye
State Occurrences:
Desert region:
Chihuahuan, Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran

Rhus aromatica belongs to the family that includes Poison Oak, Poison Ivy and other plants known to create a sometimes severe form of contact dermatitis. It has trifoliate leaves and colorful fall foliage which often leads to a mistaken identity with its dreaded cousins. However, it is generally not toxic to humans, except possibly for those that experience the worst reactions when exposed to the other family members of the plant who get a severe rash. The plant has a pleasant, citrusy aroma and beautiful red berries that in warmer climates may last throughout the winter. It blooms in early spring and is an important nectar source for pollinators before the traditional blooming months. Deer are said to browse mainly on the flowers rather than leaves, and fruit-loving birds will be found wherever it is growing. It also appears to be resistant to most garden pests and therefore makes a colorful, aromatic and bird-friendly addition to any native plant garden.

Fragrant Sumac 1

Fragrant Sumac in the desert

Rhus aromatica leaves are trifoliate and are similar to Poison Oak, to which it is related. However this plant does not have the same toxicity. Cap Rock, Joshua Tree National Park | April 21, 2015

Fragrant Sumac 2

Fragrant Sumac in the desert

Rhus aromatica has bright red fruit that turns brown with age. Most berries are readily eaten by birds or other wildlife. Cap Rock, Joshua Tree National Park | April 2015