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Photo of a Harmless Relative

Easiest Identification of Non-Poison Sumac Is Through the Seeds

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Most sumac shrubs, as the one pictured here, are quite harmless....
Picture of seedtuft of non-poison sumac.

Picture of seedtuft of non-poison sumac.

David Beaulieu

In fact, I regard the non-poisonous varieties of sumac, although sometimes regarded as weeds, to be potentially desirable landscaping elements. They furnish outstanding fall foliage, without posing any health risks (unlike poison sumac). But the reputation of these delightful sumac shrubs has been smeared through their association with their nefarious cousin -- poison sumac. Once you identify poison sumac, though, you should have no reason to fear non-poison sumacs.

And one of the easiest ways to distinguish between the two is via the seeds. As you have already seen, the seeds of poison sumac are nothing at all like those of non-poison sumac. The latter grow in the red, fuzzy seedtuft shown above. This seedtuft looks rather feathery from a distance and is soft to the touch. The seeds are tightly packed in the seedtuft.

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