Smooth Sumac Looks A Lot Like Staghorn Sumac
One day I was driving about the countryside taking notice to sumac trees. The Staghorn Sumac has an interesting way that the branches grow up and out and I was curious if that characteristic was seen in other sumacs.
Indeed, it would be nice to find one of the other species of sumac I’ve read about in tree books, like Peterson’s Guide to Trees and Shrubs. In Northeastern U.S. we have four species of sumac.
Anyway, this one grouping of sumac seemed smaller than the staghorns we’d been seeing, so I pulled off the road to take a closer look.
The long, feather-like, compound leaves and the upright bunches of red berries at the end of branches identified the plant as a kind of sumac, other than Poison Sumac.
Distinguishing features of Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra:
- leaflets toothed
- red berries in spreading cluster
- twigs smooth, almost hairless
In comparison with Staghorn Sumac, R. typhina, the individual red berries of smooth sumac appear more like distinct individual berries without so many hairs.
It may be difficult to see the difference unless berries of both species are available, but clusters of staghorn berries appear to be more densely packed into a cone shape.
Since the hairs on the outside of the berry provide the malic acid and tartness, the smooth sumac berries are often called “less tart” than their staghorn cousins. So, if you’re going to collect sumac berries try to get staghorn berries as they will provide more of that lemony taste.
Sumacs are some of the deciduous trees that give early indication that autumn is approaching. Their leaves are already turning red as of early August.