Rhus trilobata – Skunkbush Sumac

Rhus trilobata - Skunkbush Sumac, Skunk Bush, Lemonade Berry (berries)

Rhus trilobata - Skunkbush Sumac, Skunk Bush, Lemonade Berry (flowers)

Plant Name

Scientific Name: Rhus trilobata

Common Names: Skunkbush Sumac, Skunk Bush, Lemonade Berry

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial, Deciduous

Growth Habit: Shrub

Arizona Native Status: Native

Habitat: Desert, Upland, Mountain

Flower Color: Inconspicuous (yellowish)

Flowering Season: Spring

Height: To 8.2 feet (2.5 m) tall

Description: The flowers appear before the leaves and are densely clustered at the branch tips. The individual flowers are tiny, sessile, and have 5 yellow petals and 5 yellow-green to reddish sepals. The flowers are followed hairy, sticky, scarlet berries. The alternate, compound leaves are divided into 3 shiny, dark green, oval-shaped, lobed or scalloped leaflets. The leaves turn orange or reddish in the fall. These shrubs are well-branched and can form dense thickets.

Skunkbush Sumac has "leaves of three" like the related Poison Oak or Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron species), but its leaves are not dangerous to touch and it has red berries instead of white ones.

Note: Sources now consider Rhus trilobata to be Rhus aromatica var. trilobata, an ill-scented variety of Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica). Rhus aromatica has foliage with a pleasant, citrusy scent. This page will be updated to reflect this once ITIS and/or the USDA Plants Database (the map source linked below) are updated.

Special Characteristics

Culturally Significant Plant – Native Americans used the fruits for food, beverage, and medicine and the pliable young stems for making baskets.

Edible – The red-orange ripe fruits are edible and can be soaked in water to make a refreshing, lemonade-like drink.

Foul-smelling – The crushed or bruised leaves have a foul, skunky smell.


Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Rosidae
Order: Sapindales
Family: Anacardiaceae – Sumac family
Genus: Rhus L. – sumac
Species: Rhus trilobata Nutt. – skunkbush sumac

More About This Plant

Arizona County Distribution Map