[soo-mak, shoo-]
sumac or sumach, common name for some members of the Anacardiaceae, a family of trees and shrubs native chiefly to the tropics but ranging into north temperate regions and characterized by resinous, often acrid, sap. The sap of certain of these plants—especially poison ivy and related species of the New World genus Toxicodendron—contains an essential oil that can cause dermatitis. In these and other species the sap is also a major source of tannin, e.g., the quebracho tree of Paraguay, the lacquer tree of SE Asia, and the terebinth or turpentine tree and the mastic trees of the Mediterranean area. The pistachio, cashew, and mango provide important foods both for local consumption and for trade. The resin content is responsible for the acid taste of mango and cashew fruits and of the oil (sometimes extracted) in pistachio and cashew nuts. The true sumacs belong to the genus Rhus; some botanists include the poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac in that genus. Several species of sumacs are native to North America, usually in dry areas, and are noted for their brilliant autumn coloration. The common staghorn sumac (R. typhina) of the Eastern states is one of the species whose fruit is used in wine making and for medicinal purposes. Some sumacs—e.g., the Sicilian sumac (R. coriara) of S Europe—are cultivated for their tannin. Sumacs are also cultivated as ornamentals, e.g., the smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) of S Eurasia, whose bark is sometimes used for a dye, and the pepper tree, or Peruvian mastic (Schinus molle), of the American tropics. The latter, with its drooping branches and red fruits, is a favorite avenue ornamental in S California; however, it is highly susceptible to black scale, a disease destructive to fruit trees, and hence must be destroyed in areas where there are citrus groves. Sumac is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Sapindales, family Anacardiaceae.

Sumac (or /ˈs(j)uːmæk/; also spelled sumach) is any one of approximately 250 species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus and related genera, in the family Anacardiaceae. The dried berries of some species are ground to produce a tangy purple spice often used in juice.

Sumacs grow in subtropical and warm temperate regions throughout the world, especially in North America.

Sumacs are shrubs and small trees that can reach a height of 1-10 meters. The leaves are spirally arranged; they are usually pinnately compound, though some species have trifoliate or simple leaves. The flowers are in dense panicles or spikes 5-30 cm long, each flower very small, greenish, creamy white or red, with five petals. The fruits form dense clusters of reddish drupes called sumac bobs.

Sumacs propagate both by seed (spread by birds and other animals through their droppings), and by new sprouts from rhizomes, forming large clonal colonies.

Cultivation and uses

The drupes of the genus Rhus are ground into a deep-red or purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads or meat. In Turkish cuisine, for example, it is added to salad-servings of kebabs and lahmacun. In North America, the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) are sometimes used to make a beverage termed "sumac-ade," "Indian lemonade" or "rhus juice". This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth and sweetening it. Native Americans also used the leaves and berries of the smooth and staghorn sumacs combined with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures.

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 types or as cultivars.

The leaves of certain sumacs yield tannin (mostly pyrogallol), a substance used in vegetable tanning. Leather tanned with sumac is flexible, light in weight, and light in color, even bordering on being white.

Dried sumac wood is fluorescent under long-wave UV light.

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 for suggestions as to control.


At times Rhus has held over 250 species. Recent molecular phylogeny research suggests breaking Rhus sensu lata into Actinocheita, Baronia, Cotinus, Malosma, Searsia, Toxicodendron, and Rhus sensu stricta. If this is done, about 35 species would remain in Rhus. However, the data is not yet clear enough to settle the proper placement of all species into these genera.

Selected species



Rhus sp. nov. A is a so-far unpublished species, endemic to Yemen. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, and rocky areas. It was given the status of "vulnerable" by the IUCN Red List.

See also




  • RO Moffett. A Revision of Southern African Rhus species FSA (Flora of South Africa) vol 19 (3) Fascicle 1.
  • Schmidt, E., Lotter, M., & McCleland, W. (2002). Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana. ISBN 1-919777-30-X.

External links

Search another word or see sumacon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature