Skunkbush Sumac

Skunkbush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) has been added to my Wildflowers of Tucson, Arizona website.

Skunkbush Sumac (Rhus trilobata)

Skunkbush Sumacs are found in canyons, chaparral areas, and oak-juniper woodlands near Tucson. These shrubs look very similar to the related Poison Ivy or Poison Oak (Toxicodendron species), as they all have compound, green leaves with 3 leaflets. Poison Ivy and Poison Oak can cause contact dermatitis (skin rash, blisters, and severe itching) if touched by persons who are or have become sensitive (allergic) to the substance urushiol present in the sap of these plants. Most people will get a rash if they touch Poison Ivy or Poison Oak.

Skunkbush Sumac does not generally cause contact dermatitis, although I have read on the web that a few people have supposedly become sensitized to it. I have never tried touching one of these plants because they look like Poison Oak (leaflets three, let it be), but even now that I know what they are and that they are harmless, I still don't want to touch them because the leaves have an unpleasant odor if bruised or crushed. Given that they are called "Skunkbush", I can guess all too well what they smell like and I certainly don't want that on my hands or clothes.

Skunkbush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) berries

Skunkbush Sumac can easily be distinguished from the hazardous Poison Ivy or Poison Oak because it has red, hairy berries, while Poison Ivy and Poison Oak have whitish or yellowish berries. Skunkbush Sumac berries are edible and have been used to make a lemony beverage, although they should be avoided by persons unusually sensitive to the many plants in the Sumac Family (Anacardiaceae), which not only includes Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, but also the edible Cashews, Mangos, and Pistachios.