Cashew (Anacardiacese) Family
Description: Poison 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.
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.