Smooth Sumac Tree

Height: Usually little more than a shrub; approximately 10 feet or so  

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous

Lifespan: 50 to 100 years (which is surprisingly long for such a small “tree”)

Fall Foliage: Very attractive orange to red

Range: The eastern United States, save for the coastal plain; west to the Dakotas

Typical Habitat: Historically, this species grew in fields and other open habitats, but it’s adapted well to human presence and grows in a variety of disturbed habitats  

The Smooth Sumac: A Small But Pretty Roadside Attraction  

As mentioned, the smooth sumac is a very small tree, which most nature lovers would likely characterize as a shrub. But it is a woody plant, which occasionally reaches tree-like proportions. And size aside, it still plays an important role in the health of the ecosystems in which it grows.

Because this species is well-adapted to open and disturbed habitats, it now grows frequently near roads, where its attractive fruit, flowers, and fall foliage make it quite a treat for motorists.

Smooth Sumac Identification: Tips & Tricks

Sumacs in general can present some identification challenges, as they superficially resemble several other types of plants and trees, including the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix). It should be noted that while the poison sumac and smooth sumac are members of the same family, they’re in different genera.

When bearing fruit, sumacs are quite easy to recognize at a glance, as the upright red berry clusters are quite distinctive and different from the blue-black berries of elderberries or the dry, flattened seeds of the tree of heaven. Habitat will also provide clues in some cases, as poison sumac tends to grow in damp swampy areas, rather than the drier, upland locations that host smooth sumac.

The Smooth Sumac: Additional Information

Want more information about the smooth sumac? Check out some of our favorite resources:

A lifelong environmental educator and the former executive director of a 501(c)3 nature preserve, Ben has led more than 10,000 miles of guided nature hikes, authored more than 40 animal care books, and been profiled in a variety of media outlets, including local public television, Countyline Magazine, and Disney Radio. When not on the trail or in front of his computer, Ben can be found cooking for his lady or playing with his dogs.

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