Plant of the Month – July 2014


Sugar Bush

Rhus ovata

A versatile evergreen shrub or tree whose "berries" have been used for traditionally and still today to make a wild lemonade.

A versatile evergreen shrub or tree whose “berries” have been used traditionally and today to make a wild lemonade.


  • Plant Form: Evergreen Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 8-15’ tall & wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Shade
  • Bloom Time: Spring (March – May); fruit Summer (June – August)
  • Native to: California, Arizona, & Mexico (at elevations 3,000 – 5,000 feet)
  •  Hardiness: Cold Hardy to 0°F



Sugar Bush is a very long-lived, evergreen, aromatic shrub with lush, deep green, leathery leaves that are slightly folded like a taco shell. Maroon twigs and leaf stems, as well as reddish bracts that enclose the flower buds, strike a nice contrast with the deep green foliage. Pinkish flower clusters in late winter or spring produce red berry-like fruits (drupes) in summer that are coated with long strands of sugar, giving the bush its name. Traditionally, and even today, people harvest and soak these “berries” in water to make a refreshing drink like lemonade. This multi-branched sumac can be pruned into an attractive, single- or multiple-trunk shade tree. A workhorse of many southwest gardens, Sugar Bush is ideal for screens, hedges, windbreaks, for erosion control on slopes, or as a specimen on its own. Although slow-growing, it is worth the wait.