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One of the easiest shrubs to identify throughout the year (unless mistaken for Rhus vernix, poison sumac, in the absence of mature fruit) smooth sumac has a spreading, open-growing shrub growing up to 9.8 ft tall, rarely to16 ft. The leaves are alternate, 30–50 cm long, compound with 11-31 leaflets, each leaflet 5–11 cm long, with a serrated margin. The leaves turn scarlet in the fall. The flowers are tiny, green, produced in dense erect panicles 3.9–9.8 in tall, in the spring, later followed by large panicles of edible crimson berries that remain throughout the winter. The buds are small, covered with brown hair and borne on fat, hairless twigs. The bark on older wood is smooth and grey to brown.
edges of moist to dry black soil prairies; upland forests with a history of disturbance; thickets and woodland borders; limestone glades; fence rows and abandoned fields; areas along roadsides and railroads; and miscellaneous waste places. This is one of the shrubby invaders of prairies; it is a pioneer species. This shrubby species can recover from infrequent fires or mowing, and resists herbicides.