Fragrant Sumac Foliage, Woodland Walk, Philadelphia in album plants

In Albums:plants

Fragrant sumac extending over a brick path, wth sets of three light green leaflets with soft, round lobes, leaves branching in alternate fashion from stems

Jul 24th, 2011, by Alex Zorach

This fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) was growing on the Woodland Walk, a pedestrian walkway running through U. Penn's campus in West Philadelphia. This photo was taken just east of 38th street, on the south side of the path. This plant is a native plant, and I was pleased to see it growing here.

Fragrant sumac is an interesting plant to me. For one, its aroma is is unlike anything else. It is a smell that I would describe as eminently pleasing, but something that I would find it hard to picture anywhere other than a plant. It is not a food smell, and I cannot imagine wanting much of it in an herbal tea either, or a perfume or skin care product. It just smells nice, but it smells very intensely like plants. Next time you see this plant, try crushing its leaves and smelling.

A word of caution...some people think that this plant looks like poison ivy. I can somewhat see the resemblance: both are in the same plant family so there are many superficial similarities. Both have leaves with sets of three leaflets which branch alternately from the stems. There are several differing points. This plant never climbs, whereas poison ivy frequently climbs (although it can be free-standing as well). However, the more reliable field mark to easily distinguish these plants is that on fragrant sumac, the middle leaflet always extends the whole way to the point where the three leaflets branch out, whereas on poison ivy, the middle leaflet is always separated from this point by a stem (called a petiole) of considerable length. Also, poison ivy tends to have a clearly pointed pointed middle leaflet, whereas fragrant sumac tends to have blunt tips to the middle leaflets. You can see a photo of a typical poison ivy plant for clarification. Fragrant sumac also has red, fuzzy berries, whereas poison ivy has white, waxy berries. Be warned, however, that poison ivy may sometimes exhibit a color and leaf texture very similar to the leaves of fragrant sumac.