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Old 01-14-2009, 12:50 PM   #1
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Default Poison Sumac, Toxicodendron Vernix

Unlike poison ivy, it's hard to find reliable photos of poison sumac online. So, I thought I would share some of mine here.

We have a fifteen-foot toxicodendron beauty in our backyard. I don't think the previous owners knew what it was, because they let it grow right at the edge of the back lawn, where anyone pushing a mower would be bound to run into it. This past weekend, since the weather was safely below freezing, I finally felt it was safe enough to take the loppers to it. With any luck I'll be able to steer its growth away from the lawn, instead of having to kill it entirely, because the birds love the berries in the late winter.

These photos were taken in early Autumn, when the leaves were starting to turn a gorgeous range of purple, red, and yellow, but had not yet started to drop off. During the summer, the leaves are a uniform green - and there is nothing distinctive about the plant at that time (except maybe to a botanist), which makes it tough to identify.

Fortunately it only grows in wet areas.
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Poison Sumac, Toxicodendron Vernix-poison_sumac_21.jpg   Poison Sumac, Toxicodendron Vernix-poison_sumac_drupe_21.jpg   Poison Sumac, Toxicodendron Vernix-poison_sumac_drupe_20.jpg  
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Old 01-14-2009, 12:55 PM   #2
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Only the female plants have berries, and depending on the maturity of the plant, or other factors, a female plant may not have many berries on it - so you can't count on berries (or drupes) being there for identification purposes.
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Old 01-14-2009, 01:00 PM   #3
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I think our big sumac is particularly distinctive in the winter, when its branches are bare, but mixed in with other bare plants, it really doesn't stand out.

But on the bright side, it's safe in the winter. I'm comfortable touching it with my bare hands once the temperatures are below freezing - and I am particularly sensitive to the urushiol in the sap. (However, I still avoid handling it however safe I might feel, just to be careful.)
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Old 01-14-2009, 01:02 PM   #4
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Here is our poison sumac in the summer.
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Old 01-14-2009, 07:36 PM   #5
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It's too beautiful to be poisonous! What's the difference between poison sumac and red sumac?
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Old 01-14-2009, 09:44 PM   #6
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Hi Sage! I'm not sure what the difference is. Perhaps someone more knowledgable could chime in?

If it grows anywhere that isn't marshy, or if it has upright clumps of red berries, then it isn't poison sumac.

The only major difference from the standpoint of someone who doesn't want a rash is that poison sumac, like poison oak and poison ivy, contains urishiol oil in its sap. That's the stuff that gives the nasty skin rashes.

Oh, one other detail - these plants are all in the cashew family. Mango is in the cashew family as well. Both cashew and mango contain trace amounts of urushiol. If you're like me - really sensitive to the stuff - you might just get a mild poison ivy reaction from eating or handling those foods.

Poison sumac is really hard to find, compared to the other types of sumac. And it's a good thing - it's North America's most dangerous plant, from what I've read. Although, from messing around with it, I find that it's not as dangerous as poison ivy if you just happen to brush against it lightly. Poison ivy's leaves are coated with urushiol, but I think poison sumac has the stuff concentrated in the sap. I did one test where I put a pinhead of poison sumac sap on my skin, and that tiny amount gave me a rash the size of a silver dollar. I would *not* like to accidentally be exposed!
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Old 01-15-2009, 07:15 PM   #7
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Yikes! We see Red Sumac around here alot and I've always been leery of touching it because I couldn't remember the difference between the sumacs. So apparently they grow in different places. If my feet are wet - I won't touch the sumac.
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Old 01-15-2009, 09:03 PM   #8
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Gasping for air. That photo with the words on it that says, "see the poison sumac" followed by "It's not hiding" left me rolling on the floor laughing. You've got a little one who will be walking soon. I love native plants and all but I think I'd make that one go bye bye. You'll be one tearful mommy if he ever runs into that plant.
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Old 01-15-2009, 11:12 PM   #9
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Yup, that's why I've started trimming the sumac. I'll be able to tell by the summer if it needs to be entirely cut down. The thing is, there is still so much poison ivy and poison sumac back there - and ticks, and serious mud - that the kidlet will have to be kept on a leash around the woods for the first few years regardless.
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Old 01-16-2009, 05:37 AM   #10
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Quote:
Poison sumac." The words are mouthed with such dread that simply mentioning them will keep some people out of the woods, even during New England's brilliant fall foliage season
Quote:
There are many kinds of non-poison sumac trees. Mention of two common varieties in New England will suffice as examples. Staghorn sumac trees (Rhus typhina (hirta)) are a relatively tall variety (reaches 18 feet to 35 feet). Staghorn derives its name from the hairy texture of its branches, reminiscent of the velvety feel of deer antlers. The smooth sumac tree (Rhus glabra) is another common variety; it attains a height of about 10 feet. Both provide striking fall foliage.
Found this info on this site http://landscaping.about.com/cs/land...or/a/sumac.htm

Very interesting information and some great pictures
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