Shrub Species of the World's Boreal Forests

World Boreal Trees

Terminology | Pictorial

Toxicodendron vernix
Poison Sumac
Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family)

A poisonous narrow-crowned shrub or small tree, growing to a height of 7.6 m and a diameter of 15 cm.

Poison Sumac Description

Distinguishing Features - Leaves: pinnate, compound, 18 - 30 cm long; reddish axis with 5 to 13 leaflets 6 - 9 cm long; in pairs except at end; ovate or elliptical; without teeth; short-stalked; colouration: shiny dark green above, paler and somewhat hairy underneath; turning a dramatic scarlet or orange in autumn. Bark: grayish to black; thin, smooth or slightly grooved. Branchlets: reddish when young, turning gray with orange dots; essentially hairless. Flowers: 3 mm long; with 5 greenish petals; many, in long, open, clusters; male and female on same or separate plants; appearing early summer. Fruit: 6 mm wide; rounded and slightly flat; whitish, single-seeded with a shiny, wax coating; numerous, in drooping branched clusters; maturing early autumn, often remain attached through winter.


Quebec and Maine south to Florida, west to Texas, and north to Minnesota; mostly confined to coastal plains and Great Lakes region; in wet soil conditions; swamps, marshes and flooded areas; also shaded hardwood forests.


The Poison Sumac is one of North America's most dangerous plants. Its sap is very toxic and causes a rash upon contact. The fruit is not toxic to birds or animals; it is eaten by birds and small mammals.

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