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Smooth Sumac

Common Name: Smooth Sumac.

Scientific Name: Rhus Glabra.

What to look for?  The Smooth Sumac is a moderately tall shrub with a single trunk and several leafy branches. The branches bend downward, loaded with nearly thirty narrow and oblong leaflets. The leaflets are yellowish green to dark green. During the autumn, the leaflets become brilliant red or dark red. The upper branches terminate in more or less erect panicles of greenish-yellow flowers during summer. On female shrubs, the flowers are replaced by dark red drupes (fruits) that become mature during the autumn and often persist into the winter.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? As you walk out from the west Carillon Stonegate Pond to Arlene Shoemaker Forest Preserve, you will find a colony of Smooth Sumac.

How big are they? The Smooth Sumac may grow up from three to ten feet or more tall. The narrow and oblong leaves are approximately five inches long and one inch across.

Where do they grow and thrive? Smooth Sumac is a native plant found throughout the eastern United States. The native Smooth Sumac occurs in every county of Illinois. The preferred habitats are dry to moist prairies, open woodlands and woodland borders, savannas, thickets, roadsides, and fields.

When do they bloom? The blooming period occurs from late spring to mid-summer, lasting about 2-3 weeks. On female Smooth Sumac shrubs, the flowers are replaced by drupes (fruits) that become mature during the autumn and often persist into the winter.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? Nectar (male shrubs only) and pollen (both male and female shrubs) are available as floral rewards to a variety of insects, including various bees, flies, wasps, and occasional butterflies or beetles. Other insects in larval stage feed destructively on the foliage, wood, sap, flowers, and other parts of Smooth Sumac. The fruits of Smooth Sumac are eaten primarily by various songbirds of Carillon Stonegate Pond, including the Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, American Crow, Starling, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Phoebe, and Pine Warbler. Our White-tailed Deer browse on the twigs and foliage.

Interesting Facts About the Smooth Sumac:

  • The genus Rhus, is derived from the old Greek name for Sumac - rhous. The species name, glabra, is Latin for "smooth".

  • Only female Smooth Sumac plants produce flowers and berries.

  • The Smooth Sumac is the only shrub or tree species native to all 48 contiguous states.

  • The Smooth Sumac can spread aggressively in a given area because of the formation of clonal offsets from its rhizomes.

For more information on the Smooth Sumac and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, Morton Arboretum, Friends of the Wildflower Garden, and University of Texas Wildflower Center.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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