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Winged Sumac Tree

Rhus copallinum

Height: To 15 feet, but usually little more than a shrub  

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous

Lifespan: Very short lived; rarely more than 25 years

Fall Foliage: Very attractive bright red; can be quite eye-catching as you drive along forested roads

Range: The eastern United States from New England to Texas  

Typical Habitat: Sunny, open habitats, such as old fields, road sides and other types of disturbed areas  

winged sumac tree leaf

The Winged Sumac: An Often-Overlooked Sumac

The winged sumac is a common shrub or small tree that – like many other sumacs — grows in old fields, edge habitats, and other places where many other members of the local flora assemblages have trouble thriving. This means it often turns up alongside roads and overgrown commercial lots, in addition to wild areas.

But while the staghorn (Rhus typhina) and smooth sumacs (Rhus glabra) get most of the attention, the winged sumac is rarely as celebrated. This is unfortunate, as the species is quite attractive. Its leaves are quite glossy all year long (hence the alternative common name for the species: shiny sumac), and they become incredibly vibrant red during the fall.   

Winged Sumac Tree Identification: Tips & Tricks

The winged sumac is pretty similar looking to other sumacs, meaning that you’ll have to begin by distinguishing it from elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) and the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima).

But the fruit often make identification easy enough, when present. Habitat will also provide clues, as winged sumacs generally like to grow in open, sunny habitats, often in areas with poor soil.

Distinguishing this particular species from other sumacs is pretty easy too, as you can simply look for the tree’s namesake “wings” on the leaves and stems.

The Winged Sumac: Additional Information

Don’t stop learning about this interesting little species now! Check out some of these resources to broaden your winged sumac horizons even further:

  • North Carolina State Extension: All of the primary information you’d expect, but this resource also provides a handy quick-reference chart and numerous attractive photographs.
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: A comprehensive guide to the species, perhaps most notable for the assortment of additional resource links it provides.
  • The Morton Arboretum: Most of the basic information interested readers will want, in an easy to digest form.    

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