How to care for Toxicodendron vernix

How to care for Toxicodendron vernix

Species: Toxicodendron vernix

Common name: Poison sumac, thunderwood

Plant Overview

The Toxicodendron vernix (poison sumac plant) is not without its benefits, although other, non-toxic types of sumacs are better-suited for your yard. Wild birds eat the waxy white berries of T. vernix in winter when other food is scarce. Aside from its toxicity (and the rash that results from exposing your skin to it), the plant can be breathtaking in autumn. But the toxicity of poison sumac means that few people grow it in landscape applications—much more often, the goal is to eradicate it, not foster it.

The genus name, Toxicodendron, is composed of two Greek words and translates as “poison tree.” Meanwhile, the species name, vernix, means “varnish.” That is because, “A black varnish can be made from the sap, as in a related Japanese species,” according to the National Audubon Society’s “Field Guide to Trees.”

Poison sumac is considerably more toxic than poison ivy and poison oak.

How to care for Toxicodendron vernix


Plant typeWoody deciduous shrub or small tree
Mature sizeUp to 30 feet
Sun exposureFull sun to part shade
Soil typeWet and clay soils; prefers boggy locations
Soil pH3.6 to 6.5; acidic soils
Bloom timeSpring and summer
Hardiness zones3 to 8 (USDA)
Native areaEastern United States and southeast Canada
WaterEvery 2-3 days


Poison sumac thrives in moist conditions, even with its roots in water.


Poison sumac favors swampy areas with full sun to part shade.


This plant is normally found in boggy soil with high clay content.

Temperature and humidity

This poisonous shrub tolerates a wide range of temperature conditions, but it prefers humid, moist conditions. It is rarely found in arid climates.


All parts of this plant are toxic, containing an oily resin called urushiol that causes skin and mucous membrane irritation. This is the same toxin found in poison ivy and poison oak, but it is present in a more concentrated form in this very toxic plant. Contact with skin can cause painful blisters, and breathing smoke from burning poison sumac has been known to cause death. Instead, bag up the branches and send to a landfill or composting center.

Medically, treating the blisters and other rash-related symptoms caused by these poisonous plants is similar to treating poison ivy. However, the rash you can receive from this plant is worse than the rash for which poison ivy is infamous.

Comments are closed.