Biological Sciences, Santa Barbara City College

Biology 100: Concepts of Biology

Rhus integrifolia   
Lemonadeberry or Lemonade Sumac

Rhus integrifolia has common names of Lemonade Berry, Lemonadeberry or Lemonade Sumac.  In size, it is a shrub or small tree that is found in canyons and on north facing slopes below 3,000 feet in elevation.  Its range extends from Santa Barbara County to the middle of coastal Baja California.  It has a short stout trunk and many spreading branches.  Leaves are simple, alternate, evergreen and leathery.  They are between 5 – 7 cm in length and 2 – 4 cm in width.  Leaves also have toothed edges and waxy upper surfaces.

The small, fragrant flowers appear in February – May.  Flowers are only 6 mm in diameter.  They are found clustered together at the top of the branches.  Flowers have five petals and five sepals and are pinkish-white in color.  The fruit is reddish, sticky, covered with reddish down-like hairs and between 7 – 10 mm in diameter.  The fruit is a food source for many species of birds.

Although containing many tannins, it is possible to make a tart, lemonade like beverage from the fruit.  This beverage gives the common name of Lemonade Berry.  Some people may discover an allergic reaction to the sap of this plant and those with a known cashew allergy would be wise not to consume the fruit in any form as the genus Rhus is in the Anacardieaceae - the sumac or cashew family.  Native American people made use of Rhus integrifolia.  The  Cahuilla (Southern California:  Riverside to Borego) Indians  both ate and made a beverage from the raw fruits.   They made mush with the dried berries.

Rhus integrifolia hybridizes with Rhus ovata (sugar bush or Sugar Sumac) and the hybrids have leaf shapes intermediate in size, shape, etc. between the two parent species.  Hybridization between these two species has occured for millions of years.  During the Miocene (23.03 to 5.332 million years before the present), both R intergrifolia and R ovata had distributions that included central and southern California, central Nevada and central and western Arizona.  The warming trends of the Pliocene (5.332 - 2.588 million years before the present) and the uplift of mountain ranges (Sierra Nevada, San Gabriel, San Bernadino) in California constricted the distribution of these species to the coastal area of Southern California.  R ovata is more drought resistant than R integrifolia and is found in the drier habitats of Riverside and San Diego counties.  R integrifolia is almost exclusively found in coastal areas or northern aspects of inland canyons. 

Here are some general differences between the two species of Rhus to aid in identification.  Rhus ovata is more drought tolerant so can grow in drier locations.  The leaves of Rhus ovata fold along the mid rib and those of Rhus integrifolia do not.  The leaves of Rhus ovata have entire margins.  The leaf margins of Rhus integrifolia may be toothed.  Rhus ovata has red sepals, Rhus integrifolia has green sepals. 

Kingdom Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass Rosidae
Order Sapindales
Family Anacardiaceae –  Cashew or Sumac family
Genus Rhus– sumac
Species - Rhus ovata  –  Lemonadeberry

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