The Poison Ivy Site • The Poison Sumac Site • The Skin Rash Hall of Fame
poison sumac
clear sumac clear Poison sumac is not very common. Thankfully.
Poison sumac is not very common, although the safe sumacs (see below) are very common. Poison sumac only grows in very wet areas. It took me 10 years to find a sumac tree, and even then I only found it because a friendly biologist showed it to me. I stand in mud and water up past my ankles to when I go visit this tree (in a reserve in Concord, Massachusetts.)

Notice that the leaves are not jagged or hairy, unlike the common staghorn sumac show below.

  • Grows only in wetlands
  • Not common
  • Leaves are smooth
  • No hair on stems
  • 7-9 leaves per stem
  staghorn sumac   This is NOT poison sumac - it is staghorn sumac.
This extremely common plant can look like trouble with its bright red berries, but it really doesn't look much like poison sumac. Note that the leaves are jagged and the stems are hairy.

There is another non-allergic sumac out there called winged sumac, but so far I have not run across it.

  poison sumac map   Where sumac is found.
This map shows the places where all sumac trees are ound and where poison sumac MIGHT be found. But you will generally still need a lot of luck (good or bad) to actually find it. Remember, it only grows in extremely wet areas - with roots in water, which kills most trees.

Word has it that there is quite of bit of poison sumac along the banks of the Mississippi in some places, and that workers building Disneyworld in the Florida wetlands Florida battled with it.

But the sumac you see growing along America's roads and highways is usually staghorn sumac. (However much of the ivy you also see growing along the road is poison ivy, which is extremely common.)
  poison sumac with dog   Poison sumac grows into a small tree.
Sumacs grow into small trees, poison sumac included. Poison ivy is a vine - and has to climb on something else. Poison oak does grow as a vine or a shrub, but never an actual tree.

The dog is in the photo to show how large the little tree gets, but dogs and other animals don't seem to be affected by poison sumac, ivy or oak. However, dogs can get the plant sap on their fur and transfer it to you when you pet them.
  poison sumac flowers   Poison sumac flowers.
If you can see the flowers this well - you are too close. The flowers are small and not impressive, much like poison ivy flowers.

The fruit that results (which I don't yet have photos for) hangs down rather than sticking up like the staghorn sumac above.

And like poison ivy berries, all sumac berries are useful for birds. Although you can see red staghorn sumac berries in place all through the winter, which means that birds don't like them THAT much.
poison ivy skin rash
  The skin rash.
This is what all the fuss is about. If you run afoul of poison sumac you can get a very serious skin rash. (This was actually a poison ivy rash, but the rash is the same for poison oak, ivy and sumac.)

If you enjoy this kind of thing and would like to see more skin rash examples, click here for the Skin Rash Hall of Fame.

If you just have a small rash, a visit to the drugstore may fix you up, but if you have anything bad -or near the eyes - get to a doctor or emergency room immediately.

The rash is an allergy and some people don't get it, some become immune, and some lose their immunity. Allergies are very odd things.

There is an oil in the poison sumac (and ivy and oak) plants call urushiol which is what causes the allergy. The oil can last for a very long time and can be transferred from hands to face (other other senstitive areas) or to tools and furniture.

Burning the plant is VERY dangerous as the urushiol can be inhaled in the smoke.
  sumac   This is a one-page site about poison sumac because there is not that much to say - it is pretty rare. The main point here is to show that the common staghorn sumac is NOT poison sumac. Since poison ivy is extremely common I have a whole website with stories and products and more. Poison oak is also very common in places and I have a website in progress about it, but since it doesn't grow in New England I am forced to travel to strange places like California and Florida to find it.  
© Jonathan Sachs 2006 • If you re-use these poison sumac images without permission or sell them you will get a poison sumac rash that won't quit.• For licensed stock use contact

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