Height: The smooth sumac tree is usually little more than a shrub; approximately 10 feet or so
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 Tree: 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.
Size aside, the species 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 grows frequently near roads, where its attractive fruit, flowers, and fall foliage make it quite a treat for motorists.
Smooth Sumac Tree 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. In other words, they’re not especially closely related.
When bearing fruit, sumacs (as a group) 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.
To distinguish smooth sumac from staghorn (Rhus typhina) and winged sumac (Rhus copallinum), you can look for the absence of the staghorn’s hairy twigs and the winged sumac’s “wings.”
The Smooth Sumac: Additional Information
Want more information about the smooth sumac? Check out some of our favorite resources:
- North Carolina State Extension: A comprehensive guide to the species, including numerous high-quality photographs and a quick-reference chart.
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Fairly detailed information about the smooth sumac, including a litany of links to other resources.
- Missouri Department of Conservation: General information about the smooth sumac, including content about the relationship between this plant and humans and other forest plants.