in Tucson, Phoenix,
and Southern California

Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, and Southern California

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Rhus trilobata: Skunkbush Sumac / Three Leaf Sumac

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Form: Shrub.
Leaf retention: Deciduous.
Growth rate: Slow to Moderate depending on rainfall.
Mature Size: 6' high and 8' wide.
Flowers: Tiny, yellowish, with both male, female, and bisexual flowers on same plant.
Bloom: In winter before leafout.
Fruit: Sparsely hairy berries, red at maturity. Fruit stays on plant for months.
Leaves: Compound with 3 leaflets, variable in size, shape, lobing, and margin. Leaves turn yellow, and sometimes red, in fall. They have an unpleasant smell when crushed. No smell imparted by touching. Plant has no aroma if leaves not crushed.
Stems: Pliable when young. No thorns.
Roots: Deep and extensively branched, with woody, shallow, and spreading rhizomes. Extent depends on rainfall.
Wildlife: Berries provide food for birds and mammals when other food not available. Foliage is a last resort for mammals.
Toxic / Danger: No. Foul-smelling and -tasting leaves could be slightly poisonous, but unlikely to be consumed.
Origin: Native to Western United States, Canada and Mexico.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 4-9.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Water once established: Once every month or two.
Soil: Well drained, dry, pH 5.6-8.5 (acidic to alkaline).
Prune: If looking raggedy after 3-5 years, cut to ground after leaves are shed and it will grow back in late winter looking well trimmed.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Seed. Can grow from rhizomes and crown after a fire.
Uses: Ornamental, erosion control. Stems used to make baskets and wreaths. Berries used to make a lemonade-type drink, baked into bread, and as a mordant for dyes.

Another common name is Lemonade Berry.

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