A shrub, or with pruning, a small tree.
Over 100 years.
Slow to rapid, depending on microclimate, with temperature extremes slowing growth.
8-15' high and 8-18' wide.
Five very small white to pink petals, with rounded tips, backed by reddish sepals.
The flowers, sticky-sugary sap-covered and fragrant, are clustered on spikes
at the end of their branches. The unopened buds are red or white.
The flowers receive a sweet sap coating by dawn, which attracts insects, when rainfall or
irrigation is sufficient. The sap then dries out during the day, leaving a sticky residue.
The flowers are either female or male, and occur on different plants, requiring cross
pollination. The plants may be sold as female or (fruitless) male.
Late winter and spring. Flowers first appear after the plant is 4-6 years old.
Small, reddish, hairy, and sticky-sugary sap-covered, the fruit are oval in shape, with thin
flesh surrounding a hard shell containing one seed. Like the flowers, the fruit occur in
clustered spikes, but on female plants only, and are edible.
Green, shiny, leathery, broadly oval with a pointed tip, smooth margins, sometimes folded
along the midrib.
New stems are reddish, gradually turning grey. The trunk is grey or brown and shaggy with
age. The outer bark can flake off in large pieces, leaving branches entirely uncovered,
apparently without harm to the plant.
An extensively branched tap root provides drought tolerance to established plants. The roots
likely extend to the edge of the canopy.
The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and the occasional hummingbird. The fruit attracts
birds and small mammals. Pieces of the bark can be removed by rodents.
Toxic / Danger:
The ripe fruit are edible. The leaves are considered unpalatable for mammals in most
locations. The sap is sweet and edible, sometimes with a lemony or lime taste. Warnings of a
skin rash from the sap are common; actual reports appear nonexistent.
California, Arizona, and Mexico.
Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones:
7-11. The plants are hardy to 25°F in their first year, to 10°F after three years,
and to 0°F or lower after six years.
Yes, but avoid reflected heat.
Locate this plant where it will have well-draining soil, receive full sun, and be in an area
large enough for its mature size to reduce pruning. Having afternoon shade 4-6' high,
which the plant can outgrow, will help getting established. It should have good air
This plant is very tolerant of soil types that are well drained, with pH 6.1 to 7.8 (slightly
acidic to slightly alkaline).
Fertilizer is unnecessary because this plant grows well in poor soil. Avoid chemical
Water after becoming established:
every 4 weeks in summer and winter,
allowing for rain. Do not overwater in summer. Wet soils can result in fungal infections,
especially in warm temperatures.
Never. This plant is susceptible to root rot and other fungal infections in moist conditions
and the surrounding top soil must dry quickly.
First Year Care:
Protect from temperatures below 25°F. Do not fertilize.
Remove weeds by hand within 6' of the trunk. Prune lightly to remove dead leaves and branches
before bud break in winter. This shrub does not respond well to heavy pruning such as top
trimming or canopy thinning.
Seed soaked in water for 24 hours before planting in spring; root cuttings taken in winter.
Ornamental, hedge or screen, bird garden if male and female shrubs are present.
A lemonade-type drink can be made from the fruit which can also be eaten fresh.
This plant is a member of the Cashew and Sumac family (Anacardiaceae). Another common name
is Sugar Sumac. It is more fire resistant than most dry climate plants, especially when
watered, and can resprout from its crown after a fire. It hybridizes with Lemonade Sumac:
Rhus integrifolia, a coastal plant that thrives near the ocean in moderate temperatures.
Do you have additional information or a different experience for these plants that you would
like to share? Email info@GardenOracle.com. All contributions are welcome and appreciated.