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SPECIES: Rhus aromatica
Ray Aslin Kansas Forest Service
Paul Wray Iowa State University Forestry images
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Taylor, Jane E. 2004. Rhus aromatica. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: www.fs.usda.gov/database/feis/plants/shrub/rhuaro/all.html .
NRCS PLANT CODE :
The scientific name of fragrant sumac is Rhus aromatica Ait. (Anacardiaceae) [25,26,37,69,78,83]. Based on differences in geographic distribution, leaf size and shape, and pubescence of stems, leaves and fruits, 3 varieties are most often recognized [25,37,54]:
R. a. var. arenaria (Green) Fern. [11,25,37,54]
R. a. var. aromatica
R. a. var. serotina (Greene) Rehd. [25,37,54]
Although most florae recognize 3 varieties of fragrant sumac listed above, a 4th variety, R. a. var. illinoensis (Greene) Rehd., is recognized by some authors [25,54].
Hybrids: Fragrant sumac may hybridize with skunkbush sumac (R. trilobata) .
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
The PLANTS database  lists fragrant sumac as having protection status in three states:
Connecticut: R. a. - special concern
Indiana: R. a. var. arenaria - threatened
Ohio: R. a. var. arenaria - presumed extirpated
In addition, the Wisconsin Botanical Information System  currently lists fragrant sumac as being a species of special concern.
Varieties: R. aromatica var. aromatica occurs throughout the distribution of fragrant sumac. R. aromatica var. arenaria occurs in northern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northeastern Illinois [11,25,37,54]. R. aromatica var. serotina occurs in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas [25,37]. R. aromatica var. illinoensis occurs in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma .
Plants database provides a distributional map of
fragrant sumac and its infrataxa  .
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES38 Plains grasslands
STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)
Oak and oak-hickory communities: Fragrant sumac is a common woody shrub in a variety of oak and oak-hickory communities . The species occurs in black oak (Q. velutina) forests in Illinois as an understory component with common pricklyash (Zanthoxylum americanum) and gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) , and is also found in the understory of drier black oak communities in southeastern Michigan . Fragrant sumac is "locally abundant" in the post oak-black hickory forest community  of the Missouri Ozarks, and is also common in oak-hickory (Carya spp.) communities in Illinois  and Tennessee . In the Upper Midwest states and southeastern Ontario, fragrant sumac occurs in dry, calcareous oak savannas dominated by white oak, chinkapin oak (Q. muehlenbergii), and shagbark hickory . In West Virginia, fragrant sumac occurs in the Appalachian oak and oak-hickory-pine (Pinus spp) forest associations . Fragrant sumac occurs in the basic oak-hickory forest type in North Carolina with a variety of hickory species and the primary oaks being white, post, black, and chinkapin .
Other woody communities: Fragrant sumac is one of the most common woody plants found in the Ashe's juniper (J. ashei) communities in southwestern Missouri . In the Ozark Highlands of southeastern Missouri, fragrant sumac can be found as a shrub component in pine-oak forests composed of shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata), black oak, white oak (Q. alba), post oak (Q. stellata), blackjack oak, black hickory (C. texana) and mockernut hickory [10,75]. In the limestone and dolomitic glades of the Ozark region in Missouri and northwestern Arkansas, fragrant sumac is one of the most common shrub species in the sugar maple (Acer saccharum)-white oak climax communities that develop along the edges of grass/forb-dominated openings . In Ohio, fragrant sumac commonly occurs in the rocky banks and sand dunes along edges of the elm (Ulmus spp.)-ash forest association . In West Virginia, fragrant sumac occurs in the northern hardwoods forest association .
Grassland communities: In addition to the forest communities discussed above, fragrant sumac occurs in a variety of grassland communities . In the tallgrass prairie region of Kansas, fragrant sumac is one of the most abundant shrub species where the predominant grasses are bluestem (Andropogon spp.), indiangrass, little bluestem, and switchgrass ; it can be found in shrub thickets that dominate upper draws and limestone outcrops, and it also occurs as an understory species in the forested areas dominated by bur oak, chinkapin oak, hackberry, and American elm . Fragrant sumac occurs in the tallgrass savannas in Illinois , with little bluestem in Tennessee , and in the blackjack oak/little bluestem woodland association in Oklahoma . In eastern Oklahoma, fragrant sumac can be dominant enough in some areas to form a fragrant sumac shrubland alliance and a fragrant sumac shrubland association .
Fragrant sumac is a native woody shrub that achieves a mature height of 5 to 8.2
feet (1.5-2.5 m) [4,74]. Fragrant sumac typically has a thicket-forming growth habit
as a result of prolific layering and sprouting [13,56]. Leaves are fragrant when
bruised, deciduous and alternate with 3 leaflets that are variable in shape, lobing,
and margin . Mature leaflets are usually coarsely-toothed; terminal leaflets are
1.8 to 2.6 inches long (3-6.5 cm) . Flower buds are formed terminally in the summer
for flowering the following spring . Individual flowers are inconspicuous and
produced in showy, dense clusters or spikes, 0.7 to 2.5 inches (2-8 cm) long. The
fruits are hairy drupes, 0.2 to 0.3 inches (5 - 7 mm) in diameter, each containing
a single seed . Fragrant sumac is rhizomatous, and forms an extensive, shallow root
system . Fragrant sumac can tolerate sites with high moisture fluctuations from
saturation/flooding in winter and spring to extremely dry in summer .
RAUNKIAER  LIFE FORM:
Fragrant sumac reproduces from seeds and by sprouting and layering [46,52,56].
Breeding system: Fragrant sumac is polygamodioecious .
Pollination: Fragrant sumac is pollinated primarily by bees .
Seed production: Fragrant sumac produces 1-seeded drupes composed of a papery exocarp, a pulpy mesocarp, and a stony endocarp which encloses the true seed . Brinkman  noted that the species produces "copious quantities" of seeds.
Seed dispersal: Seeds of fragrant sumac are spread primarily by birds and small mammals [13,45].
Seed banking: Fragrant sumac can form a persistent soil seed bank with some seeds remaining viable for 1-5 years after being incorporated into the soil profile. Viability is greatly reduced within 5 years due to a gradual loss of seed-coat impermeability. Seed bank may be replenished slowly due to herbivory of the fruits; animals eat the fruits and remove them from the site. .
Germination: Seed dormancy in fragrant sumac is caused by a hard, impermeable seed coat and a dormant embryo [30,9,45). Seeds must undergo maturation desiccation and cold stratification before they will germinate; desiccation must occur before cold stratification . In laboratory tests, seeds that were not cold-stratified showed 0-15% germination, whereas stratified seeds showed germination of greater than 90% [13,31,47]. High temperatures have little to no effect in breaking seed dormancy in fragrant sumac [47,48].
Seedling establishment/growth: In grassland communities, seedlings of all shrub species compete directly with grasses for water and nutrients and many will die from this competition . Seedling establishment of fragrant sumac may be prolific in the 1st year after fire or other disturbance . Results of seed germination tests suggest seedling establishment following fire is probably the result of increased seedling survival due to the removal of litter and light competition, and not the result of enhanced germination from high temperatures. [48,85]. Seedlings rarely become established in dense thickets of fragrant sumac .
Asexual regeneration: Fragrant sumac reproduces clonally by sprouting from the roots and rhizomes . Sprouting can occur from rhizomes as far as 12-16 feet (3.7-4.6 m) away from the original stem . Fragrant sumac has been observed to sprout and form small thickets in the 1st few years following fire [52,56,90]. Fragrant sumac's sprouting ability also allows it to spread into newly developed soil mats in rocky areas and the openings along the edges of forested glades [38,63]. The density and frequency of new sprouts is reduced by frequent or recurring disturbance . Li and others  consider it a "weak sprouter", especially when compared to other sumac species such as smooth sumac (R. glabra).
Layering occurs in fragrant sumac when stems grow into contact with the
ground and develop adventitious roots. New sprouts develop from the new
roots bases and repeat the cycle of growth, layering and sprouting .
Fragrant sumac is a basophilic plant, i.e., it is associated with high basic (mafic or calcareous) substrates . The species will tolerate a variety of soil types, but is especially well adapted to shallow, infertile, rocky soils, derived from a variety of substrates: dolomite, limestone, sandstone, and chert [6,10,15,30,57]. Sites are typically dry and excessively drained, and are commonly located on sandstone or shale ridges .
Fragrant sumac is usually discussed as a pioneering species which invades disturbed sites, fencerows, roadsides, abandoned fields and forest and grassland borders [19,63,68]. Fragrant sumac is considered to be shade intolerant or to have a low shade tolerance . Although it does occur in many different forested communities, the specific sites are often along edges of openings or in stands where canopy closure has not yet occurred. It may be considered more of a late-successional species in the shrub-dominated communities in limestone and dolomite glades [7,22,57].
Fragrant sumac is a deciduous shrub with a typical winter dormancy. Flowers appear in mid-spring (March-May) with leaf expansion occurring at the same time or shortly thereafter . Fruit maturation is synchronous and occurs about 8-9 weeks after flowering, which in most areas is early to mid-June [44,46,47]. Because flower inflorescences are terminal, no further branch growth occurs along that axis. Branch growth each following year must arise from buds formed below the inflorescence. New twigs grow at an angle with the twig of the previous year .
Fire regimes: As of this writing (2005), there are no published fire history studies on fragrant sumac-dominated communities.
The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where fragrant sumac occurs. Find further fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".
|Community or Ecosystem||Dominant Species||Fire Return Interval Range (years)|
|silver maple-American elm||Acer saccharinum-Ulmus americana||< 35 to 200|
|sugar maple||Acer saccharum||> 1,000 |
|bluestem prairie||Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium||< 10 [40,62]|
|sugarberry-America elm-green ash||Celtis laevigata-Ulmus americana-Fraxinus pennsylvanica||< 35 to 200|
|beech-sugar maple||Fagus spp.-Acer saccharum||> 1,000 |
|juniper-oak savanna||Juniperus ashei-Quercus virginiana||< 35|
|Ashe juniper||Juniperus ashei||< 35 |
|cedar glades||Juniperus virginiana||3-22 [27,62]|
|shortleaf pine||Pinus echinata||2-15|
|shortleaf pine-oak||Pinus echinata-Quercus spp.||< 10|
|loblolly-shortleaf pine||Pinus taeda-P. echinata||10 to < 35|
|Virginia pine-oak||Pinus virginiana-Quercus spp.||10 to < 35|
|oak-hickory||Quercus-Carya spp.||< 35|
|northeastern oak-pine||Quercus-Pinus spp.||10 to < 35|
|southeastern oak-pine||Quercus-Pinus spp.||< 10|
|white oak-black oak-northern red oak||Quercus alba-Q. velutina-Q. rubra||< 35|
|bur oak||Quercus macrocarpa||< 10 |
|oak savanna||Quercus macrocarpa/Andropogon gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium||2-14 [62,84]|
|post oak-blackjack oak||Quercus stellata-Q. marilandica||< 10|
|black oak||Quercus velutina||< 35 |
|little bluestem-grama prairie||Schizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua spp.||< 35 |
A spring burn killed 100% of fragrant sumac saplings in an oak-hickory community in north-central Arkansas; however, seedlings were found establishing on the site in the 1st summer following the burn at an average density of 3.7 plants/10m2 (there was no determination if "seedlings" were from seed germination or sprouting) .
Fire also eliminated fragrant sumac from an oak-hickory community in Missouri. The study plots were burned in the spring either annually or on a 5-year cycle; study was carried out over a 14-year period. In both burn treatments, fragrant sumac was eliminated and no regrowth of fragrant sumac was observed .
A winter burn eliminated fragrant sumac from the seedling/sapling component of a little bluestem-indiangrass community in Southern Illinois. Prior to burning, fragrant sumac existed in the grassland at a density of 58 stems/acre. One hundred percent of the fragrant sumac stems were killed by the fire, and no resprouting was observed in the posttreatment surveys done in the summer of the same year. The lack of resprouting was likely the result of the fire burning very severely due to a heavy litter accumulation .
In a different burn study in a grassland ecosystem, fragrant sumac apparently increased in occurrence after fire in a tallgrass prairie community in north-eastern Kansas. The burns were conducted in April and were reported to have moved slowly, 3.3-6.6 feet/min (1-2 m/sec), and maintained low flame heights, <1.6 feet (<0.5m). Fragrant sumac had a 0% canopy cover preburn; 0.1% the 1st year postburn, and 0.5% the 2nd year postburn .
Spring burning apparently promoted fragrant sumac in oak and shortleaf pine
savannas in south-central Missouri. The study area was burned in April of
1999 and 2000, and vegetation surveys were performed in August, 1999 and
2000. Fragrant sumac was absent in pretreatment vegetation surveys, but
it showed up in posttreatment surveys (no quantification of sumac occurrence
was given) .
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Summer or fall burning under dry conditions may result in fires hot enough to prevent resprouting of fragrant sumac, especially on south-facing slopes [2,43]. New sprouts and seedlings are susceptible to fire and will be killed by recurring burns [2,61].
Palatability/nutritional value: Seeds of fragrant sumac contain a high percentage of oil, and the energy content is 5,304 calories/g . The fruit may be a source of easily digestible, quick energy, but the small size of the seeds limits the food value of the seeds .
The thicket-forming growth habit of fragrant sumac makes it a good cover species
for birds and small mammals [68,87].
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Fragrant sumac is well suited for revegetation and reclamation of eroded, disturbed, or depleted sites because of its ability to tolerate poor, dry, rocky soils, and its ability to grow at a low ph (4.5) [68,82]. The species has not been tested on mine spoils throughout the entire mining region in the eastern United States, but it has been observed "volunteering" on mine soils in many locations. At 1 test site in West Virginia, 15-year-old plantings of fragrant sumac had successfully developed into open stands with a height of 3 to 4 feet (0.9-1.2 m) .
Fragrant sumac was first cultivated in the United States in 1759 . It can be propagated vegetatively by rooting stem cuttings or by field-planting stem cuttings; the latter method is the one used in most commercial operations .
Propagation from seed is also an effective method for fragrant sumac.
Fruits can be collected in late fall and early winter, and seeds can be cleaned
or sown with pieces of the fruit wall still attached. Flotation can be
used to separate out empty seeds . Because seed dormancy in
fragrant sumac is caused by both a hard seed coat and a dormant embryo, both
scarification and stratification are required before seeds will germinate [31,47].
Scarification with sulfuric acid for 1 hour at 68 degrees
Fahrenheit (20 oC) followed by cold stratification at 33.8 to 39.2
degrees Fahrenheit (1-4 oC) for 1 to 3 months is recommended for
fragrant sumac. If seeds will be sown in the fall, scarification is
required, but the artificial cold stratification can be skipped as it will be
achieved naturally in the soil environment . Li and others 
found that soaking the seeds in a Gibberellic acid solution at a concentration
of 500 or 1000 mg/liter achieved the same results as the cold stratification
treatment. Li and others  found that the germination of fragrant
sumac seeds is rather insensitive to light and temperature, although, their
study did show that the best germination occurred with a treatment that
alternated a 12-hour photoperiod at 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 oC)
with a 12-hour dark period at 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 oC) .
Sumac species in general are valuable for erosion control because of their extensive root systems . The showy fall foliage and drought hardiness of fragrant sumac make it a desirable shrub for ornamental and windbreak plantings .
Native peoples are reported to have made a drink from the fruits of fragrant sumac . Fruits and leaves are reported to have a variety of herbal pharmacological uses: analgesic, antidiarrheal, burn dressing, cold remedy, dietary aid, diuretic, toothache remedy, reproduction aid, and gynecological aid .OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
A sumac-feeding psyllid (Calophya triozomiwa) has been collected on fragrant sumac in many locations; however no injurious plant symptoms have been reported .
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