Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Fragrant Sumac - Rhus aromatica   Aiton
Members of Anacardiaceae:
Members of Rhus with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Sapindales » Family Anacardiaceae
DistributionThroughout the eastern and central Piedmont; widely scattered in the western Piedmont. A single record for the western Coastal Plain (Cumberland County), and one record (Graham County) for the Mountains. (Several additional mountain county records are either misidentifications or are from non-natural habitats.) Thus, essentially restricted to the Piedmont in the state. The Graham County records (specimens in 1956 and 1980) are from roadsides near Fontana Dam and may or may not be natural occurrences. The Cumberland County record is from 1938, bluffs along Cape Fear River.

Despite it being mainly a Piedmont species in NC, it has a huge range across all states except ME. It ranges from the Atlantic to the Pacific, though is rare in the Coastal Plain.
AbundanceGenerally infrequent in the Piedmont, typically seen by an observer only a few times a year unless he goes to its specific habitats. Extremely rare in the Mountains and Coastal Plain.
HabitatThe species nearly always is found in dry and rocky woods, often around the margins of granitic flatrocks. It seems to prefer somewhat circumneutral/mafic soils, and thus is more often found in dry and rocky cedar glades and xeric hardpans than in dry, acidic soils.
PhenologyBlooms from late February to early May, often before the leaves emerge. Fruits quite early, from late April to June.
IdentificationThis is a rather small deciduous shrub, growing to about 1-2 feet tall on average, but at times to 3-4 feet tall. On first glance it looks much like Poison-oak (Toxicodendron pubescens) and less so Poison-ivy (T. radicans), with its three-parted leaves. However, the central (terminal) leaflet of Fragrant Sumac tapers gradually to the base, and appears rather diamond-shaped, unlike the more rounded base of the terminal Poison-oak or Poison-ivy leaflet with a short stalk showing. The leaves of Fragrant Sumac also tend to be rather thick, and they are usually not as shiny as the leaves of Poison-oak or Poison-ivy. Both Fragrant Sumac and Poison-oak have scalloped or rounded serrations on the leaves, as opposed to sharper serrations in Poison-ivy. The inflorescence of Fragrant Sumac is quite different from the others, being clusters of quite small yellow flowers close to the stems, at times before or as the leaves are emerging. By late spring or early summer, the hairy red drupes (berries) begin to show.
Taxonomic CommentsThe species has been segregated into several varieties; the nominate one – R. aromatica var. aromatica -- is the one found in NC.

Other Common Name(s)None
State RankS3 [S4]
Global RankG5
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