sumac vs toh id

sam_mdJune 22, 2013

Much confusion on the Tree Forum between Sumac and Tree of Heaven, even among long time posters with limited ID skills. Here is an attempt to distinguish the two.
TREE OF HEAVEN Ailanthus altissima LEFT is an introduced weed from Asia. It creates large monocultures by exhibiting alelopathy. Female trees produce a papery seed which becomes windborne and germinates wherever it lands. The crushed foliage stinks.
STAGHORN SUMAC Rhus typhina RIGHT is native throughout most of Eastern North America. No toxicity is associated with this plant. Firey orange and scarlet can be seen in September & October as one drives along the interstate, these are some of our most vibrant Fall colors.
Freshly cut stems exude a sticky, white latex from S. sumac. Densely pubescent, even sticky velvet covers the stems of this species. Red seed heads are persistent and hang on all winter. This is important wildlife food especially when snow blankets the ground. Leaflets are held sessile.

Leaflets of TOH are stalked. One or more glandular teeth can be found at the base of the leaflet. TOH demonstrates no wildlife benefit. OTOH herbicide manufacturers benefit greatly from its pestiferous nature..


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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

The pubescent on stems, even on young ones, is a dead give away.

Why would it be difficutl to tell the two apart with that feature? Do folks mistakenly mis id as they look just at the foilage? We don't have TOH around here but the Staghorn is quite common.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 11:35PM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Sumac flowers, both male & female, are very attractive to honeybees when blooming.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 10:04AM
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I found the glandular indentation on TOH to be of great help when I ID'd one a couple days ago by the leaves alone. This was my first positive ID for TOH. After seeing both side by side, they really are quite different.

One thing I would like to add to this topic is a pic of mature TOH fruit. If both have fruit there is absolutely no mistaking one for the other.

This post was edited by j0nd03 on Thu, Jun 27, 13 at 10:48

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 10:19AM
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A lot of compound leaved trees out there that can get confused. Overall, staghorn is probably easier than a lot of sumacs.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 11:37AM
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Yes I posted a thread earlier asking for an ID of either a sumac or TOH. Different people said it was either a sumac or a TOH, but as it turns out the people who said TOH were correct. I can't blame the ones who said sumac because the resolution of the picture wasn't enough to see the leaves clearly enough. Here's a picture of what I found growing out of the foundation of my house a few days after I posted that thread-

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 12:25PM
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Around here the common sumac is Rhus glabra, not the pubescent one so using that as a clue doesn't work for everyone.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 1:56PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

That makes sense, I was just thinking Staghorn but I guess it applies to other Rhus.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 9:06PM
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As the name implies Rhus glabra is glabrous or lacking in pubescence. So we have to fall back on other traits of leaf morphology. Sessile leaflets on sumac rather than stalked leafles on TOH is a good place to start.
I took this pic this morning of Smooth Sumac. The flowers were buzzing with insects. Notice how clean the foliage is. If the homeowner puts sumac on their postage-sized lot that's a mistake made out of ignorance. Sumac is best suited to vast, open areas and sucessional landscapes.

Cut stems of both Staghorn & Smooth Sumac exude sticky latex which must have been the inspiration for Elmer's Glue. This is not found with TOH

    Bookmark   June 27, 2013 at 9:06PM
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I've seen on small lots and by the look of it, worked good, because is small tree. A lot of people mow for the hobby of it, so some suckering isn't going to be much of a concern when mowing weekly. Seen the same with white poplar, though that is less preferable because was large trees next to house, but beautiful for time being.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 12:01AM
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Great sap picture! Thanks :)

    Bookmark   June 28, 2013 at 8:12AM
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Today I was near Havre de Grace, Maryland standing at the bottom of an ancient flint furnace looking up. Our old friends TOH and Empress Tree seem to require very little to exist. Worth noting Hydrangea arborescens and many Pteridophytes co-existing here.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2013 at 4:28PM
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