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Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)

Life history

Species overview

Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in woodlands with dolomite or less commonly sandstone near the surface. Blooming occurs late April through late May; fruiting occurs early July through early September. This species can be identified year-round.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished from other sumacs by its 3 leaflets, all sessile or nearly so.
  • Flower characteristics: Pale yellow, in several short (1 to 2 cm), spike-like lateral clusters formed from axillary buds in late summer of the previous year and expanding with the leaves in the spring.
  • Fruit characteristics: 4 to 5 mm, bright red, densely hairy.
  • Leaf characteristics: Alternate, divided into 3 leaflets; leaflets sessile or nearly so, at least the terminal one few-toothed or cleft above the middle.


  • Blooming phenology: late April through late May
  • Fruiting phenology: early July through early September
  • Optimum time to identify: This species can be identified year-round


  • Growth form: Shrub
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer rubrum, Quercus alba, Q. velutina, Xanthoxylum americanum, Ptelea trifoliata.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Rhus aromatica in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in woodlands with dolomite or less commonly sandstone near the surface.
  • Soils: Calcareous or sometimes sandy soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Fragrant Sumac. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Oak Woodland 2
Southern Dry-mesic Forest 2
Dry Cliff 1
Oak Opening 2

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Fragrant Sumac. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes on or near known populations.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes in open sandy areas dominated by native grasses.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Maintain low to partial canopy; avoid closed-canopy conditions.
  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).


Fragrant Sumac Photo.

Photo © R. Schulenberg.

Fragrant Sumac Photo.

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Fragrant Sumac Photo.

Photo © R. Schulenberg.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition