Poison sumac
Toxicodendron vernix
Cashew (Anacardiacese) Family

Poison Sumac plant with oblong, pointed leaves

Description: Poison Sumac stems and leavesPoison sumac is a woody shrub or small tree that grows to 8.5 meters (28 feet) tall with rough, scaly bark. It has alternate, pinnately compound leafstalks with 7 to 13 smooth edged leaflets per leaf.  The leaflets are oval to oblong, taper to a sharp point, and may grow 2-4 inches long.  Leaves are pale to dark green turning to bright yellow to dark purple during the Fall season.  The top of the leaf is typically shiny whereas the underside of the leaf is covered with hairs or a down-like fuzz.  The stem joining the leaflets is often red colored.

Poison Sumac tree trunkPoison Sumac leavesFlowers are greenish-yellow and inconspicuous, growing in clusters 3-8 inches long and are followed by green, white or pale flattened yellow berries.

All parts can cause serious contact dermatitis at all times of the year.   When burned, inhalation of the smoke can cause a rash on the lining of the lungs leading to severe pain, difficulty breathing, and possibly fatal pulmonary edema whereby blood enters the lungs and the victim suffocates almost immediately.  According to many botanists, it is the most toxic plant species in North America.

Habitat and Distribution: Poison sumac grows only in wet, acid swamps or wet woods in North America.

 

Close-up of Poison Sumac leaflets

Poison Sumac green berries

Poison Sumac leaves in the Fall season

Red Poison Sumac stems make the plant easy to identify

Close up of Poison Sumac bark

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