AskDefine | Define sumac

Dictionary Definition



1 wood of a sumac
2 a shrub or tree of the genus Rhus (usually limited to the non-poisonous members of the genus) [syn: sumach, shumac]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


Middle English< Old French< Arabic summāq


  • italbrac US: /ˈsuːmæk/


  1. Any of various shrubs or small trees of the genus Rhus including the poison ivy and poison oak.
  2. A sour spice popular in the Eastern Mediterranean made from the berries of the plant.


  • Arabic: سماق
  • Bosnian: ruj, sumah
  • Croatian: ruj
  • French: sumac
  • Persian: سماق
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: руј , сумах
    Roman: ruj , sumah

Extensive Definition

Sumac ( or /ˈs(j)uːmæk/; also spelled sumach) is any one of approximately 250 species of flowering plants in the genus Rhus and related genera, in the family Anacardiaceae. The dried berries of some species are ground to produce a tangy purple spice often used in juice.
Sumacs grow in subtropical and warm temperate regions throughout the world, especially in North America.
Sumacs are shrubs and small trees that can reach a height of 1-10 meters. The leaves are spirally arranged; they are usually pinnately compound, though some species have trifoliate or simple leaves. The flowers are in dense panicles or spikes 5-30 cm long, each flower very small, greenish, creamy white or red, with five petals. The fruits form dense clusters of reddish drupes called sumac bobs.
Sumacs propagate both by seed (spread by birds and other animals through their droppings), and by new sprouts from rhizomes, forming large clonal colonies.

Cultivation and uses

The drupes of the genus Rhus are ground into a deep-red or purple powder used as a spice in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads or meat; in the turkish cuisine e.g. added to salad-servings of kebabs and lahmacun. In North America, the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), and the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), are sometimes used to make a beverage, termed "sumac-ade" or "Indian lemonade" or "rhus juice". This drink is made by soaking the drupes in cool water, rubbing them to extract the essence, straining the liquid through a cotton cloth and sweetening it. Native Americans also used the leaves and berries of the smooth and staghorn sumacs combined with tobacco in traditional smoking mixtures.
Species including the fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), the littleleaf sumac (R. microphylla), the skunkbush sumac (R. trilobata), the smooth sumac and the staghorn sumac are grown for ornament, either as the wild types or as cultivars.
The leaves of certain sumacs yield tannin (mostly pyrogallol), a substance used in vegetable tanning. Leather tanned with sumac is flexible, light in weight, and light in color, even bordering on being white.
Dried sumac wood glows under UV lighting (blacklight) .
Mowing of sumac is not a good control measure as the wood is springy resulting in jagged, sharp pointed stumps when mowed. The plant will quickly recover with new growth after mowing. See Nebraska Extension Service publication G97-1319 for suggestions as to control.


At times Rhus has held over 250 species. Recent molecular phylogeny research suggests breaking Rhus sensu lata into Actinocheita, Baronia, Cotinus, Malosma, Searsia, Toxicodendron, and Rhus sensu stricta. If this is done, about 35 species would remain in Rhus. However, the data is not yet clear enough to settle the proper placement of all species into these genera.


Rhus sp. nov. A is a so-far unpublished species, endemic to Yemen. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland, and rocky areas. It was given the status of "vulnerable" by the IUCN Red List.



  • RO Moffett. A Revision of Southern African Rhus species FSA (Flora of South Africa) vol 19 (3) Fascicle 1.
  • Schmidt, E., Lotter, M., & McCleland, W. (2002). Trees and Shrubs of Mpumalanga and Kruger National Park. Jacana. ISBN 1-919777-30-X.
sumac in Arabic: سماق
sumac in Danish: Sumak
sumac in German: Rhus
sumac in Spanish: Rhus
sumac in Esperanto: Sumako
sumac in Persian: سماق
sumac in French: Rhus
sumac in Hebrew: אוג (צמח)
sumac in Georgian: თუთუბო
sumac in Lithuanian: Žagrenis
sumac in Dutch: Sumak (geslacht)
sumac in Polish: Sumak
sumac in Portuguese: Rhus
sumac in Russian: Сумах
sumac in Tonga (Tonga Islands): Tavahi
sumac in Turkish: Sumak
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