Winged sumac is a North American native plant. Rhus is the ancient Latin name for sumacs, and
copallinum means “gum copal,” because the dried sap resembles that of the copal tree.
Sumac simply means “red,” probably a reference
to the berry color of most sumacs.
Identification: Winged sumac is a shrub or small tree that can reach
20' (6.1 m) in height, and up to 10' (3 m) around.
Shiny, pointed oval-shaped leaves occur in
opposing pairs along branches. Leaves are 1-4" (2.5-10 cm) long. (Technically, the branch full of leaves is a single pinnately compound
leaf, which is up to 12" (30 cm) long.)
The most unusual feature of this plant
is the “wings”—small, long “leaves” that grow along the branch, between each set of leaves. In the fall,
leaves turn burgundy red. Young branches have
fine, velvety reddish-brown hairs, but much less so than those of close
cousin staghorn sumac. Broken branches have clear sap, while other
sumacs have a sticky white latex. Flowers are a drab yellowish green.
Fruits are dense clusters of bright red berries, which often last through the winter, turning a
Edibility: Poisonous. Okay, well, that isn’t actually
true. It isn’t edible, but it isn’t dangerous.
But be careful not to confuse winged sumac with poison sumac. If you think poison ivy or
poison oak are bad, you don’t want to run into the much more toxic poison sumac, which some
botanists consider the most poisonous plant in America. Poison sumac is relatively rare, and grows
only in very wet areas. It lacks the wings of winged sumac and the fuzzy branches and toothed
leaves of staghorn sumac.