Poison sumac grows in swamps, bogs, depressions, and other wet areas.
Like both poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac produces urushiol, a clear
liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an itching
rash in most people who touch it.
Poison sumac basically manifests itself as a woody
shrub or small tree. Unlike both poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac is
not an overly common plant.
Poison sumac is a woody shrub or a small, slender tree that measures
leaves are pinnately compound (meaning - the leaflets grow from several
places along the stalk) and alternate along the stem. The plant is deciduous
so the leaves fall in the autumn turning brilliant orange to red in color.
Each leaf stem contains 7 to 15 leaflets that are usually 2" to 4" long and
1" to 2" wide, and elliptic to oblong in outline. The lower leaf surface is
lighter green and the edges are smooth (not toothed). The central leaf stalk
is typically reddish colored.
New stems are smooth and reddish, but they gradually
turn tan to light gray with age. These light-colored leafless stems can look
deceptively like other non-toxic shrubs or trees during the winter.
Small greenish flowers are followed by white berries
similar to poison ivy.
As can be seen in the map, poison sumac is found in most of the eastern
United States, between Texas and Florida in the south, to Minnesota and
Quebec in the north.
Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that
often develops into a red rash or flesh colored bumps and blistering. The
rash can be treated with Calamine lotion or other over the counter remedies
such as oatmeal baths and baking soda. In severe cases hospitalization may
be required or if the plant has been ingested.
Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so
handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil
transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the
rash if it comes into contact with the skin.
The fluids released by scratching the blisters do not spread the poison or
the rash. The fluid in the blisters is produced by the body and it is not by