Smooth sumac is a native shrub that grows in the prairie. It gets its name from its smooth and shiny leaves. It has gray/brown colored smooth branches and milky sap.
There is another species of sumac that looks very similar to smooth sumac found in the prairies, winged sumac Rhus copallina. It has a piece of foliage growing along the stem of the compound leaves, in between the leaflets. This makes it look like a wing growing off the stem, and is where it gets its name. Although the two often grow side-by-side, they apparently do not hybridize. They have different flowering times.
Smooth sumac flowers in early summer, producing small white or cream colored flowers, and produces brilliant red drupes in late summer.
Smooth sumac colonizes an area by means of seeds, establishing extensive thickets by spreading rootstocks. It re-sprouts vigorously after fire, but declines with annual burning. The crude protein and phosphorus increase in the foliage following fire, as well as palatability.
Smooth sumac is usually found in draws, creek bottoms or at the interface between forest and prairie.
Small mammals, birds and white-tailed deer use the dense thickets of smooth sumac for cover. Its drupes are eaten by many upland game birds, songbirds and small mammals. Mule deer, white-tailed deer and rabbits eat the leaves and twigs of smooth sumac.
The fruits of smooth sumac are very important to wildlife well into the winter, when other food sources are exhausted.
Native Americans used all the parts of smooth sumac for medicine, and ate the fruits.