Rhus copallinum

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Rhus copallinum
Rhus copallinum.jpg
Photo taken by Michelle Smith
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Tracheophyta- Vascular plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Order: Sapindales
Family: Anacardiaceae
Genus: Rhus
Species: R. copallinum
Binomial name
Rhus copallinum
RHUS COPA dist.jpg
Natural range of Rhus copallinum from USDA NRCS Plants Database.

Common names: Winged sumac, Flameleaf sumac, Shining sumac

Taxonomic notes

Synonym: Rhus copallina L.; Rhus leucantha Jacquin; Rhus obtusifolia (Small) Small.[1]

Varieties: R. copallinum Linnaeus var. latifolia Engler.[2]


"Upright shrubs or small trees, not poisonous. Leaves once-pinnately compound. Inflorescence a terminal panicle. Drupes red, ripening in the autumn. Seeds smooth. Flowers produced after the leaves."[3] "Rhizomatous shrub or small tree to 7 m tall; stems densely short-pubescent. Leaflets 9-23 (mostly 9-11), sessile, oblong to elliptic, 3-8 cm long, 1-4 cm wide, acute to acuminate, entire or less frequently crenate to serrate, base cuneate to rarely rounded, glabrous or densely pubescent beneath; rachis winged. Panicle 0.5-3 dm long and usually as broad. Drupe densely short-pubescent, 3-4 mm broad. Seeds 2.5-3 mm long."[3]




R. copallinum habitats include old fields, oak-hickory woods, oak scrubs, marsh banks, roadsides, and sand ridges.[4]

R. copallinum has shown regrowth in reestablished longleaf pine woodlands that were disturbed by agriculture in South Carolina coastal plain communities, making it a possible indicator species for post-agricultural woodlands.[5] It increased its cover in response to clearcutting and chopping in north Florida flatwoods.[6] This species also increased its frequency in response to roller chopping in east Texas hardwood forests.[7]

It was unaffected by agriculture in South Carolina pine woodlands.[8]

R. copallinum had variable changes in frequency in response to soil disturbance by a KG blade in east Texas. It either showed regrowth or resistance to regrowth in reestablished hardwood forests that were disturbed by this practice.[7]

Rhus copallinum is frequent and abundant in the Clayhill Longleaf Woodlands and Upper Panhandle Savannas community types as described in Carr et al. (2010).[9]


This species has been observed to flower from July to August.[10][11]

Seed dispersal

This species is thought to be dispersed by consumption by vertebrates.[12]

Seed bank and germination

The rhizomes, flowers, fruits, senescent leaves and leaf litter contain toxins that significantly inhibit both seed germination and seedling growth of climax prairie and weedy species.[13] Seed germination responds positively to heat shock with highest germination rates at 90 C.[14]

Fire ecology

Fire stimulates root and root collar sprouting along with enhancing germination, making this a fire-climax species. Density declines 3 to 4 years following a fire, with fire exclusion reducing density and cover.[15] Seeds respond positively to heat shock, suggesting that its germination is dependent on or facilitated by fire.[16] Populations of Rhus copallinum have been known to persist through repeated annual burns.[17][18][19]

Herbivory and toxicology

Rhus copallinum has been observed at the Archbold Biological Station to host a variety of bee species such as Colletes mandibularis (family Colletidae), members of the the Halictidae family such as Augochlora pura, Augochlorella aurata, Augochloropsis sumptuosa, Lasioglossum pectoralis and L. placidensis, members of the Megachilidae family such as Coelioxys sayi and Megachile xylocopoides, as well as wasps from the Pompilidae family such as Episyron conterminus posterus, Poecilopompilus interruptus and Tachypompilus f. ferrugineus, members of the Sphecidae family such as Cerceris flavofasciata floridensis, C. tolteca, Ectemnius rufipes ais, Isodontia apicalis, Oxybelus decorosum, Palmodes dimidiatus, Philanthus ventilabris, Sphex ichneumoneus and Tachysphex similis, as well as Leucospis robertsoni (family Leucospididae) and members of the Vespidae family such as Eumenes fraternus, Monobia quadridens, Pachodynerus erynnis, Parancistrocerus fulvipes rufovestris, Parancistrocerus perennis anacardivora, Parancistrocerus salcularis rufulus, Polistes dorsalis hunteri, Stenodynerus beameri, Stenodynerus pulvinatus surrufus, Vespula maculifrons, Vespula squamosa and Zethus spinipes.[20] Additionaly, R. copallinum has been observed to host members of the Andrenidae family such as Andrena brevipalpis, A. crataegi, A. miserabilis and A. robertsonii, Bombus griseocollis (family Apidae), Tibicen tibicen (family Cicadidae), Oecleus borealis (family Cixiidae), Harmonia axyridis (family Coccinellidae), members of the Colletidae family such as Colletes speculiferus and Hylaeus modestus, Agapostemon virescens (family Halictidae), and members of the Megachilidae family such as Megachile albitarsis, M. brevis, M. petulans, and M. texana.[21] The foliage is a food source for the caterpillar Pyrrhia umbra.[22] The berries are eaten by wild turkeys and songbirds.[15] Birds have been observed to choose fruits of R. copallina rather than fruits of R. glabra when they were both available as winter foods. This could be due to the higher caloric value and larger fruits of R. copallinum.[23]

Diseases and parasites

Fusarium wilt infects the roots, causing the leaves to droop and wilt.[24]

Conservation, cultivation, and restoration

Cultural use

The fruits are used to make a sweet drink by the Cherokee Indians.[25] The drink was similar to what we think of as pink lemonade. Additionally, boiling the berries can create a cure for sore throats.[26]

Photo Gallery

References and notes

  1. Weakley, A.S. 2015. Flora of the southern and mid-atlantic states. Working Draf of 21 May 2015. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  2. Weakley, A.S. 2015. Flora of the southern and mid-atlantic states. Working Draf of 21 May 2015. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Radford, Albert E., Harry E. Ahles, and C. Ritchie Bell. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. 1964, 1968. The University of North Carolina Press. 678. Print.
  4. Florida State University Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium database. URL: http://herbarium.bio.fsu.edu. Last accessed: March 2016. Collectors: Loran C. Anderson, Tom Barnes, Kathy Craddock Burks, G. Fleming, P. Genelle, Robert K. Godfrey, Gary R. Knight. States and Counties: Florida: Florida: Citrus, Franklin, Gadsden, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, St. Johns, Wakulla.
  5. Brudvig, L.A., E Grman, C.W. Habeck, and J.A. Ledvina. (2013). Strong legacy of agricultural land use on soils and understory plant communities in longleaf pine woodlands. Forest Ecology and Management 310: 944-955.
  6. Moore, W.H., B.F. Swindel, and W.S. Terry. (1982). Vegetative Response to Clearcutting and Chopping in a North Florida Flatwoods Forest. Journal of Range Management 35(2):214-218.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Stransky, J.J., J.C. Huntley, and Wanda J. Risner. (1986). Net Community Production Dynamics in the Herb-Shrub Stratum of a Loblolly Pine-Hardwood Forest: Effects of Clearcutting and Site Preparation. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-61. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station. 11 p.
  8. Brudvig, L.A., J.L. Orrock, E.I. Damschen, C.D. Collins, P.G. Hahn, W.B. Mattingly, J.W. Veldman, and J.L. Walker. (2014). Land-Use History and Contemporary Management Inform an Ecological Reference Model for Longleaf Pine Woodland Understory Plant Communities. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86604.
  9. Carr, S.C., K.M. Robertson, and R.K. Peet. 2010. A vegetation classification of fire-dependent pinelands of Florida. Castanea 75:153-189.
  10. [[1]]Missouri Botanical Gardens. Accessed: March 7, 2016
  11. Nelson, G. PanFlora: Plant data for the eastern United States with emphasis on the Southeastern Coastal Plains, Florida, and the Florida Panhandle. www.gilnelson.com/PanFlora/ Accessed: 19 MAY 2021
  12. Kay Kirkman, Jones Ecological Research Center, unpublished data, 2015.
  13. Petranka, J. W. and J. K. McPherson (1979). "The Role of Rhus Copallina in the Dynamics of the Forest-Prairie Ecotone in North-Central Oklahoma." Ecology 60(5): 956-965.
  14. Bolin, J. F. 2009. Heat shock germination responses of three eastern North American temperate species. Castanea, v. 74, no. 2, p. 160-167.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named fs
  16. Bolin, J. F. 2009. Heat shock germination responses of three eastern North American temperate species. Castanea, v. 74, no. 2, p. 160-167.
  17. Robertson, K.M. Unpublished data collected from Pebble Hill Fire Plots, Pebble Hill Plantation, Thomasville, Georgia.
  18. Glitzenstein, J. S., D. R. Streng, R. E. Masters, K. M. Robertson and S. M. Hermann 2012. Fire-frequency effects on vegetation in north Florida pinelands: Another look at the long-term Stoddard Fire Research Plots at Tall Timbers Research Station. Forest Ecology and Management 264: 197-209.
  19. Platt, W.J., R. Carter, G. Nelson, W. Baker, S. Hermann, J. Kane, L. Anderson, M. Smith, K. Robertson. 2021. Unpublished species list of Wade Tract old-growth longleaf pine savanna, Thomasville, Georgia.
  20. Deyrup, M.A. 2015. Database of observations of Hymenoptera visitations to flowering plants on Archbold Biological Station, Florida, USA.
  21. Discoverlife.org [2]
  22. [[3]]Accessed: March 10, 2016
  23. Graber, J. W. and P. M. Powers (1981). "Dwarf Sumac as Winter Bird Food." The American Midland Naturalist 105(2): 410-412.
  24. [[4]]University of Florida Extension Accessed: March 10, 2016
  25. Deuerling D., Lantz P. 1991 Native Wild Foods: Indian Lemonade. Palmetto 11(3):7
  26. Fernald, et al. 1958. Edible Plants of Eastern North America. Harper and Row Publishers, New York.