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Rhus ovata

About Sugar Sumac (Rhus ovata) Rhus ovata, also known as Sugar Bush or Sugar Sumac, is an evergreen shrub to small tree that grows in chaparral in dry canyons and slopes below 1300 meter in Southern California, Arizona and Baja California. In the southern part of it's range (in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties) Rhus ovata generally grows in the foothills and mountains, and the closely related Rhus integrifolia (Lemondade Berry) grows closer to the coast. Its size ranges from 2 - 10 meter tall and it has a rounded appearance, often growing wider than tall. The twigs of Rhus ovata are thick and reddish in color. Its foliage consists of dark green, leathery, ovate leaves that are folded along the midrib. The leaf arrangement is alternate. Its flower clusters which occur at the ends of branches consist of small, 5-petaled, flowers that appear to be pink, but upon closer examination actually have white to pink petals with red sepals. Additionally, the flowers may be either bisexual or pistillate. The fruit is a small reddish, sticky drupe, about 6 - 8 millimeter in diameter that is said to be edible.

Sugar Bush is tough and easy to grow, and very fast growing once established. A 5 gallon container plant will reach 10 feet in about 3 years if happy. In nature, you'll almost always see Sugar Bush on slopes, though it grows well on flat areas in garden applications. It's one of the few larger chaparral shrubs that grows well in south facing slopes even in the drier parts of it's range, and is a great bank stabilizer. It tolerates a wide variety of soils. It grows fastest with full sun, and just a little slower in part shade. It tolerates summer water up to 1x per month, but shouldn't need any once established. The plants are incredibly healthy, and typically will appear green and lush through the entire dry season without any supplementary water. The biggest downside of this plant is that it can get huge, often more than 30 feet wide, and can aggressively crowd out nearby plants. It is said to be fire resistant, especially if given supplemental water.

Sugar Sumac is very closely related to Lemonaideberry Bush, with the former being the predominant species along the coast, and the latter inland. A good rule of thumb for landscaping applications is within 5-10 miles of the coast, Lemonade berry is a better choice. More inland, Sugar Sumac does better.
Plant Description
Plant Type

Max. Height
6.6 - 32.8 ft (2 - 10 m)

Max. Width
30 ft (9.1 m)

Upright, Mounding

Fragrant - Pleasant

Growth Rate
Fast, Moderate


Flower Color
White, Pink

Flowering Season
Spring, Winter

Native Status

Natural Setting
Site Type
Chaparral slopes, often south facing, often very hot and dry, from just inland of the coast to the mountains and desert transition

Sun, Part Shade

Elevation ?
-283' - 7419'

Annual Precip. ?
4.8" - 43.2"

Summer Precip. ?
0.14" - 2.77"

Coldest Month ?
33.5° F - 59.1° F

Hottest Month ?
60.6° F - 87.7° F

Humidity ?
0.89 vpd - 38.56 vpd

Soil Description
Tolerates a variety of soils

Soil PH
6.0 - 8.0

Fast, Medium

Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to 0° F

Sunset Zones ?
9, 10, 11, 12, 14*, 15, 16, 17, 18*, 19*, 20*, 21*, 22*, 23*, 24*

Companion Plants
Wildlife Attracted
Insects are attracted to the flowers. Birds are attracted to the fruits.

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Very Easy

Water Requirement ?
Extremely Low, Very Low
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Seldom Used

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water, 1x/month
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Inorganic, Organic with Rocks

Pest Control
Susceptible to oak root fungus

Propagation ?
By seed, but hybridization with Rhus integrifolia occurs readily. To avoid hybridization, use cuttings.  For propagating by seed: Soak in tap water for 24 hrs. and immediately sow any seeds that swell. Boil the rest in water 1 min. and cool immediately. Alternative treatments: oven heat of 230°F for 5 mins. {Went et al. 1952); oven heat of 212°F for 5-10 mins. (Stone and Juhren 1951); fire treatment for maximum germination soak in concentrated H20S4, 1-6 hrs. depending on seed batch and age (Wright 1931).

Common uses
Bank Stabilization, Hedges, Deer Resistant, Bird Gardens

Nursery Availability
Commonly Available

Other Names
Common Names
Sugar Bush

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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