Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Rhus trilobata:
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 male, female, and bisexual flowers on the same plant.
Bloom: Late winter or spring before leaf out.
Fruit: Sparsely hairy, red at maturity, with thin flesh around a hard shell containing one seed. The fruit stays on the plant for months.
Leaves: Compound with 3 leaflets, variable in size, shape, lobing, and margin. The leaves turn yellow, and sometimes red, in the fall. They have an unpleasant smell when crushed. No smell is imparted by touching. The plant has no aroma if its leaves are not crushed.
Stems: Pliable when young. No thorns.
Roots: A deep, branching taproot with shallow, spreading rhizomes.
Wildlife: The fruit provide food for birds and mammals when other food is not available. The foliage is a last resort for mammals.
Toxic / Danger: No. The foul-tasting leaves could be slightly poisonous, but they are 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 it to the ground after its leaves are shed and it will grow back in late winter to early spring looking well trimmed.
Litter: Low except for leaves shed in the fall.
Propagation: Seed. It can grow back from its rhizomes and root crown after a fire.
Uses: Ornamental. Erosion control on slopes. The stems are used to make baskets and wreaths. The fruit are used to make a lemonade-type drink, baked into bread, and as a mordant for dyes.

This plant is a member of the Cashew and Sumac family (Anacardiaceae). Other common names are Basket Bush and Skunkbush.

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Rhus trilobata: Three Leaf Sumac - flowers

Rhus trilobata: Three Leaf Sumac - fruit

Rhus trilobata: Three Leaf Sumac - leaves in fall

Rhus trilobata: Three Leaf Sumac shrub

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Latest update: January, 2022