PLANT: ill-scented. FRUITS: sparsely pubescent. NOTES: See also parent taxon. Wide-ranging both ecologically and geographically from rim rock, rocky ledges and slopes to canyon bottoms in the deserts, grasslands, chaparral, Madrean woodlands, pinyonjuniper woodlands, ponderosa pine forests, and riparian zones: all AZ cos.; 500-2275 m (1500-7500 ft); Mar-May; w U.S. Material from the w U.S. including AZ has been recognized as Rhus aromatica Aiton var. trilobata (Nutt.) A. Gray, differing in its sparsely pubescent fruits from typical R. aromatica of the e U.S. with villous fruits (Fernald 1941); also, R. aromatica var. trilobata is ill-scented whereas R. aromatica of the e U.S. has a pleasant citrus scent (David Hammond pers. comm.). Several other varieties of Rhus aromatica have been named (based on characters such as leaf size, lobing, and pubescence, and time of flowering) that would occur in AZ (Barkley 1937). Since there are no consistent geographic patterns to the variation in these characters, Rhus aromatica are best treated as a polymorphic species consisting of only the two varieties (e U.S. and w U.S.). REFERENCES: John L. Anderson, 2006, Vascular Plants of Arizona: Anacardiaceae. CANOTIA 3 (2): 13-22.
Common Name: skunkbush sumac Duration: Perennial Nativity: Native Lifeform: Shrub Wetland Status: FACU General: Upright shrubs, deciduous; to 3 m tall, thicket-forming; branchlets brown, becoming gray with age. Leaves: Alternate, ternately compound or simple; leaflets 1-5 cm long, usualy 3-lobed, margins coarsely toothed; shiny, dark green above, paler green beneath, glabrous or puberulent on one or both sides, turning red in fall. Flowers: Inflorescence lateral, arising from twigs of the previous years; flowers in dense, spikelike clusters, 1-1.5 cm long; flowers sessile, appearing before the leaves; sepals 5, pinkish; petals 5, yellow, 2-3 mm long. Fruits: Drupes crowded in clusters; reddish-orange, rounded, 5-8 mm diameter, covered with short, sticky, red hairs. Ecology: Dry hillsides, canyons, and mesas from 2,500-7,500 ft (762-2286 m); flowers March-June. Distribution: Most of N.America; from Alberta, CAN, south to s CA, east to MD; south to s MEX. Notes: A widespread shrub of many biotic communities and habitats; distinguished by being usually 1-2 m tall often with soft, velvety pubescence on stems and leaves (sometimes sparsely-haired); pungent-smelling foliage due to glands all over (hence the common name "skunk bush"); trifoliate leaves with round-lobed leaflets; and clusters of bright red berries that taste like lemons. There is uncertainty surrounding this species. Anderson 2007 suggested that all species of our regional R. trilobata and its varieties be subsumed under R. aromatica. Anderson treated the species as polymorphic, suggesting our western specimens (which he calls R. aromatica var. trilobata) differed from those in the East (R. aromatica) by their sparsely pubescent fruits. He indicated several previously named varieties of this species that lack consistent geographic patterns, and advised they be treated as one complex. Allred and Ivey (2012) continue to use the name R. trilobata and recognize 6 varieties in New Mexico, while acknowledging that the varieties are ill-defined and perhaps not worth recognizing. Ethnobotany: Leaves are chewed to alleviate stomachache. Oil from fruit is used to treat hair loss. Wild and tended forms very different, so that tended shrubs have long, straight shoots used in basketry. Fruit sour but edible, often mixed with water for a refreshing beverage. Also ground into a meal, after drying in the sun. Fruits, leaves, and bark used in making dye. Navajo used it to treat skin problems and stomach problems. Different parts are used for dying wool and baskets. Etymology: Rhus is derived from rhous, an ancient Greek name for Sumac, while trilobata means three-lobed. Synonyms: Rhus trilobata, Rhus aromatica var. trilobata Editor: SBuckley 2010, Hazelton 2015