South Dakota Native Plant Research
Anacardiaceae: Rhus trilobata

Anacardiaceae: Rhus trilobata


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Family Name


Common Name

Skunkbrush sumac

Native American Name

Lakota: čháŋ uŋkčémna


Rhus trilobata is a deciduous shrub, upright, ascending or spreading, 2-3 m tall, branches covered with short hairs when young. The compound leaves are alternate, trifoliate, petiolate, the leaflets are each elliptic to obovate, 1.5-2.5 cm long, with a wedge-shaped base and a few rounded teeth. The terminal leaflet is often 3-lobed. Leaves and branches have an strong unpleasant odor. The inflorescence is a terminal compound spike of dioecious catkins (0.5-2 cm) with 5-merous flowers that have greenish sepals, united at the base and greenish white to creamy yellow petals. Fruit is a subglobose drupe, orange-red, 5-7 mm in diameter wide with red glandular and translucent hairs. Skunkbrush sumac flowers in the spring (April – June) with leaves and flowers often appearing at the same time. This shrub is found on wooded hillsides, in canyons and prairie ravines mostly on the western side of South Dakota.

Additional Notes

The taxonomy of skunkbrush sumac varies from source to source and is often found as Rhus aromatica var. trilobata. The fruits are consumed by many bird species and small mammals and can be steeped in water to create a lemonade-type beverage.

Horticulture Notes

Seed collection: Fruits can be gathered in the late fall and winter. Removal of the dry fruit from the seed will enhance germination.

Germination: Seed coat is hard and waterproof. Acid scarification before spring planting will produce good results. Seeds planted in the fall will begin to germinate the following year.

Vegetative propagation: Suckers can be separated from the main plant and established by transplanting in the spring.

Light: Full sun to partial shade.

Soil: Most dry well-drained soils, sand, sandy loam to rocky soils.

Notes: Plants can be rejuvenated every few years by cutting them to the ground in mid-winter.

Anacardiaceae: Rhus trilobata