Plant of the Month – May


It’s hard to believe that this lush plant hails from our dry deserts. In days past, Basketbush Sumac was prized for its long, straight, flexible branches for basketmaking. Today it is treasured for its dense, dark green foliage for hedges, background plantings, or screens in water-wise southwest gardens. Birds also love the ripe berries produced on female plants.

Basketbush Sumac, Fragrant Sumac

Rhus aromatica


  • Plant Form: Deciduous Shrub
  • Water Use: Low
  • Mature Size: 5-6 ft. tall x 6-8 ft. wide
  • Exposure: Full Sun, Part Shade
  • Bloom Time: Spring (Mar-May)
  • Native to: California, western U.S., Canada to Mexico (below 7,500 feet)
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to -15°F

Basketbush Sumac is a surprisingly lush plant to be found in dry desert habitats. It is a tidy shrub with arching stems and dense leaves, spreading by rhizomes to form a thicket. This extremely cold-tolerant plant is a non-irritating, non-poisonous relative of poison oak, which it somewhat resembles. Known as Basketbush Sumac for its traditional use in basketry, it is also called Fragrant Sumac due to the scent of its crushed leaves, and Three-leaf Sumac from its leaf shape. This moderately fast-growing California native has tiny, yellowish flowers in spring, producing clusters of red fruits on female plants, while retaining its deep green foliage all summer. Leaves often turn orange or red in autumn before falling for winter dormancy. The tart, edible red berries (actually hard drupes) are eaten by birds. Use this tough, lovely plant for borders, screens, windbreaks, hedges, mass plantings, on slopes, or in any areas with poor, dry soils.

Check out our  “Garden Tasks” for May