Poison Sumac Pictures

  • 01 of 15

    Poison Sumac Pictures: Identify This Shrub of Swamps, Pond Shorelines

    Photo of poison sumac plant.
    Photo of poison sumac plant growing in its native habitat: a swamp. David Beaulieu

    Identifying Toxicodendron Vernix Using Poison Sumac Pictures

    Let these poison sumac pictures help you in identifying Toxicodendron vernix (the poisonous plant's new Latin name, replacing the older name, Rhus vernix). Our images include closeup photos of the shrub's plant parts so that you can make a precise identification. They'll help you learn what this plant looks like by showing you its leaf shape, berries, bark, stem color, and leaf color.

    But to make this gallery as helpful to...MORE you as possible, I did not want to content myself with taking a "snapshot in time," if you will, which would capture the plant's appearance merely at one particular time of the year. Instead, you will find images here from more than one season. I think you will be especially struck by the beauty of this menace in autumn, when it puts on a fall foliage display for the ages (look but do not touch!), a display every bit as good as the more familiar one we enjoy from the great fall color trees.

    This poison sumac picture shows the plant in its preferred habitat.

    Poison sumac is a shrub (some consider it a small tree) that grows in swampy areas. The photo above shows a poison sumac shrub growing amidst other plants that grow in wet areas, such as ferns, cattails and winterberry holly.

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  • 02 of 15

    The Leaflets

    Picture of poison sumac leaflets.
    Closeup picture of poison sumac's leaflet. David Beaulieu

    All parts of poison sumac are poisonous, so it's a good idea to identify this plant properly.

    The photo above is a closeup of poison sumac's leaflet; its edge (or "margin") is considered "entire" in plant-identification terminology (that is, the edge is smooth or "untoothed") and displays a midrib of a lighter color.

    Poison sumac is indigenous to eastern North America.

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  • 03 of 15

    Pinnately Compound Leaves

    Picture of poison sumac leaves.
    Picture showing the arrangement of poison sumac's leaves. David Beaulieu

    What the heck is a "pinnately compound" leaf?

    "Pinnately compound" is part of botanical lingo for identifying plants by their leaf shapes. "Pinnate" means resembling a feather. "Compound" means that instead of one unified structure, a plant's leaf is really composed of multiple leaflets joined by stems.

    Poison sumac has leaves made up of from 5 to 13 such leaflets. Notice that, while the exact number varies, it is always an odd number. That's because while...MORE most of the leaflets form matching pairs (one across from the other), there's always one lone leaflet at the tip of the compound leaf, which gives it the shape of a feather.

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  • 04 of 15

    The Spring Berry

    Picture of poison sumac berries.
    Picture of immature poison sumac berries in spring. David Beaulieu

    Although the berry of poison sumac matures to a whitish color (as I illustrate with an image presented later in this gallery), it starts out green in spring.

    Note that the poison sumac berry cluster is quite distinct from the berry cluster of non-poisonous sumacs, in terms of color, shape and texture.

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  • 05 of 15

    The Berries

    Closeup photo of poison sumac berries.
    Closeup photo of poison sumac berries. David Beaulieu

    The photo below is a closeup of poison sumac berries.

    Notice that the berries of poison sumac aren't perfectly round. Although toxic to the touch for humans, poison sumac berries are not toxic to birds. Many birds, including quail, treat poison sumac berries as an emergency food source in winter.

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  • 06 of 15

    The Fall Berry

    Photo of white berries of poison sumach.
    Photo of white berries of poison sumac in fall. David Beaulieu

    The foliage of poison sumac changes its color in fall, and so does the berry.

    Like poison ivy, the color of poison sumac's mature berry is whitish.

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  • 07 of 15

    Photo of a Harmless Relative

    Picture of seedtuft of non-poison sumac.
    Picture of seedtuft of non-poison sumac: an identification feature that makes it easy to distinguish the plant from poison sumac. David Beaulieu

    Most sumac shrubs, as the one pictured here, are quite harmless.

    In fact, I regard the non-poisonous varieties of sumac, although sometimes regarded as weeds, to be potentially desirable landscaping elements. They furnish outstanding fall foliage without posing any health risks (unlike poison sumac). But the reputation of these delightful sumac shrubs has been smeared through their association with their nefarious cousin -- poison sumac. Once you identify poison sumac, though, you should have no...MORE reason to fear non-poison sumacs.

    And one of the easiest ways to distinguish between the two is via the seeds. As you have already seen, the seeds of poison sumac are nothing at all like those of non-poison sumac. The latter grow in the red, fuzzy seedtuft shown above. This seedtuft looks rather feathery from a distance and is soft to the touch. The seeds are tightly packed in the seedtuft.

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  • 08 of 15

    Old Bark

    Picture of the bark on an older poison sumac shrub.
    Picture of the bark on an older poison sumac shrub (or "poison dogwood," as is sometimes called). David Beaulieu

    One of poison sumac's nicknames is "poison dogwood".

    If the rash it causes can be considered its "bite," then in the case of this dog, it is not true that its bark is worse than its bite!

    The photo above shows what the old bark of poison dogwood looks like. Notice that it is much rougher in texture than the newer bark (pictured next).

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  • 09 of 15

    The New Bark

    Picture of poison sumac shrub's bark, on young shrubs.
    Picture of poison sumac shrub's bark, on young shrubs. David Beaulieu

    The new bark on the trunks of poison sumac shrubs is relatively smooth.

    Poison sumac shrubs grow to be 6 to 20 feet high.

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  • 10 of 15

    The Stems

    Its red stems help identify poison sumac.
    Its red stems help identify poison sumac. David Beaulieu

    The stems of poison sumac leaves help us to identify the plant.

    The bright red color of poison sumac's leaf stems is one of the first things you'd want to look for in the spring to distinguish it from non-poisonous varieties of sumac. That's because, in spring, you wouldn't necessarily have any berries to help you in identification.

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  • 11 of 15

    Fall Foliage

    Photo of poison sumac with yellowish and pinkish autumn leaves -- at the same time.
    Photo of poison sumac with yellowish and pinkish autumn leaves -- at the same time. David Beaulieu

    The fall foliage of poison sumac is just as magnificent as that of its non-poisonous cousin.

    The fall foliage of poison sumac is interesting because the leaves don't all turn the same color at the same time. This makes for some beautiful combinations. In the picture above, there are tinges of both yellow and pink in the fall foliage.

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  • 12 of 15

    More Fall Foliage

    Photo of fall foliage of poison sumac, showing red and pinkish leaves.
    Photo of fall foliage of poison sumac, showing red and pinkish leaves. David Beaulieu

    In this photo, poison sumac shrub displays another of its interesting fall foliage color combinations.

    Another color combination one will encounter in autumn when viewing poison sumac (the variant spelling for which is "poison sumach") is red and pink.

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  • 13 of 15

    Yellow Fall Foliage

    A yellow stage in the fall foliage display of poison sumac.
    A yellow stage in the fall foliage display of poison sumac. David Beaulieu

    It is possible to find branches of poison sumac in fall bearing a single color.

    The photo above provides a nice example of a branch whose autumn foliage is entirely yellow.

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  • 14 of 15

    Red Fall Foliage

    Photo of poison sumac's red fall leaves.
    Photo of poison sumac's red fall leaves. David Beaulieu

    The most striking single color in poison sumac's fall foliage is red.

    The photo above provides an example of the brilliant red color that poison sumac's autumn foliage can assume.

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  • 15 of 15

    Tri-Color Fall Foliage

    The fall foliage of poison sumac can offer a number of colors at any one time.
    The fall foliage of poison sumac plants is quite interesting. Multicolored leaves are commonly seen on this toxic bush. David Beaulieu

    The autumn leaves of poison sumac can offer a number of colors at any one time....

    The interesting color combinations in poison sumac's autumn foliage can go beyond terrific twosomes. In the photo above, I can pick out shades of red, pink and yellow, in addition to a little leftover green -- sort of a "tutti-frutti" look.