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A small deciduous tree up to 20 ft high, with a trunk 15 to 18 in. thick, usually much smaller in England, and often breaking near the ground into two or three stems; branchlets glabrous and grey. Leaves pinnate, with purplish stalks, quite glabrous except when young; leaflets nine to thirteen, 2 to 4 in. long, one-third as much wide, ovate or obovate, entire. Flowers 1⁄8 in. across, greenish yellow, produced on thin, slender panicles 4 to 8 in. long from the leaf-axils of the current season’s growth. Fruits the size of a peppercorn, yellowish white, and hanging in a cluster of graceful panicles from near the end of the branchlets.
Native of the eastern United States; cultivated in England since early in the 18th century. Few of the sumachs are more beautiful than this in their autumn tints, the foliage putting on brilliant shades of orange and scarlet before it falls. Yet it is not much grown in this country, and perhaps wisely so, for it is one of the most dangerous hardy trees in cultivation, owing to the toxic properties of its sap – even, it is said, of its exhalations! The latter may be doubtful; but all that has been said as to the need of care in dealing with R. radicans applies with equal, if not greater, force to this species. It appears with both that persons in a state of perspiration are most susceptible to their effects. It flowers in July, and the fruit often remains throughout the winter.