Biological Sciences, Santa Barbara City College

Biology 100: Concepts of Biology


Rhus ovata   
Sugar Bush or Sugar Sumac

Rhus ovata has common names of Sugar Bush or Sugar Sumac.  It is found in the dry canyons and south-facing slopes below 1,300 meters in Southern California, Baja California and Arizona.  The main population is in the Californias. 

Rhus ovata is a shrub to small tree between two and ten meters in height.  The tree has a rounded appearance.  Leaves are bright green, leathery and fold along the mid rib.  The leaf arrangement is alternate. 

Flowers are at the end of the branches.  They are small and have five pink-white petals and red sepals.  The fruit, a reddish sticky drupe (fleshy fruit with a single hard pit enclosing the seed e.g. cherry) is 6 – 8 mm in diameter.  The fruits can be eaten fresh or dried.  The dried fruits can also be used to create a porridge-like mush.  Rhus is in the Anacardiaceae Family.  This is the Sumac or Cashew family.  People who are allergic to cashews should be careful in their consumption of any Rhus.  Medicinally, an infusion of the leaves can be taken as a cold or cough remedy.

Rhus ovata and Rhus integrifolia are very similar.  They can hybridized with one another which makes identification even more difficult as characteristics will be intermediate between the two species.  Here are some general differences.  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 –  Sumac or Cashew family
Genus Rhus– sumac
Species - Rhus ovata  –Sugar Bush or Sugar Sumac


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