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Smooth sumac

Smooth sumac in flower.

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


Botanical name:

Rhus glabra

All common names:

Smooth Sumac

Family (English):

Cashew, Sumac

Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Screen,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet),
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Dry soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Sandy soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Occasional drought,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • early summer,
  • mid fall,
  • late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Yellow

Shape or Form:

  • Irregular,
  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Thicket-forming,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

More Information:

Size & Form

10 to 15 feet high and wide. 
A large, colony-forming, native shrub best used in mass plantings.
Large ferny-like foliage gives plant a tropical appearance.

Tree & Plant Care

Often found growing in dry sandy to gravelly soils. Tolerant of clay soils.
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.

Disease, pests, and problems

Cankers, leaf spots, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt and rusts.

Disease, pests, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity and aerial salt spray.

Native geographic location and habitat

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

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.
Dark green upper surface and lighter, smooth beneath.
Fall Color is a stunning yellow to orange-red-purple combinations.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Dioecious. 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 (drupe) which persistent into winter.


Location of Rhus glabra (Smooth sumac) at the Arboretum