Rhus trilobata - Nutt. ex Torr.&A.Gray.
Common Name Skunk Bush, Basketbush, Squawbush, Three Leaf Sumac
Family Anacardiaceae
USDA hardiness 4-6
Known Hazards There are some suggestions that the sap of this species can cause a skin rash in susceptible people, but this has not been substantiated. See also notes in 'Cultivation Details'.
Habitats Foothills, canyons, slopes etc, usually on dry rocky soils[62] and especially on limestone outcrops[149].
Range Western N. America.
Edibility Rating  
Other Uses  
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun

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Bloom Color: Green, Yellow. Main Bloom Time: Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Spreading or horizontal, Upright or erect.

Rhus trilobata Skunk Bush, Basketbush, Squawbush, Three Leaf  Sumac

Rhus trilobata Skunk Bush, Basketbush, Squawbush, Three Leaf  Sumac
Physical Characteristics
 icon of manicon of shrub
Rhus trilobata is a deciduous Shrub growing to 1.8 m (6ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in April. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Bees.The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

R. aromatica trilobata. R. trilobata. Nutt. or Torr.&Gray.

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Oil.
Edible Uses: Drink;  Oil.

Fruit - raw or cooked[62, 85, 92, 94, 95, 149]. The fruit can be eaten fresh, dried, mixed with cornmeal or made into a jam[183]. The fruit is small with very little flesh, but it is produced in fairly large panicles and so is easily harvested. When soaked for 10 - 30 minutes in hot or cold water it makes a very refreshing lemonade-like drink (without any fizz of course)[85, 92, 149, 183]. The mixture should not be boiled since this will release tannic acids and make the drink astringent. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter[200].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Analgesic;  Antipruritic;  Astringent;  Contraceptive;  Deodorant;  Deodorant;  Diuretic;  Emetic;  
Haemostatic;  Odontalgic;  Oxytoxic;  Stomachic.

Skunk bush was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes, who valued it especially for its astringent qualities and used it to treat a range of complaints[257]. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. Due to its potentially toxic nature, it should be used with some caution and preferably only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The fruit is analgesic, astringent and stomachic[257]. It has been eaten as a treatment for stomach problems and grippe[257]. The dried berries have been ground into a powder and dusted onto smallpox pustules[257]. The fruit has been chewed as a treatment for toothache and also used as a mouthwash[257]. A decoction of the fruit has been used as a wash to prevent the hair falling out[257]. The leaves are astringent, diuretic, emetic and haemostatic[257]. An infusion of the leaves has been used in the treatment of head colds[257]. A decoction of the leaves has been drunk to induce impotency as a method of contraception[257]. A poultice of leaves has been used to treat itches[257]. An infusion of the bark has been used as a douche after childbirth[257]. The bark has been chewed, and the juice swallowed, as a treatment for colds and sore gums[257]. A decoction of the root bark has been taken to facilitate easy delivery of the placenta[257]. The roots have been used as a deodorant[257]. The buds have been used on the body as a medicinal deodorant and perfume[257].


Other Uses
Basketry;  Deodorant;  Deodorant;  Dye;  Mordant;  Oil;  Repellent;  Tannin.

The leaves are rich in tannin. They can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a black to brown dye or as a mordant[169, 257]. The fruits can also be used as a mordant[257]. A yellow dye is obtained from the twigs[149]. black dye can be obtained when the twigs are mixed with pine gum[257]. A red-brown dye can be made from the bark and leaves[257]. A pink-tan dye can be made from the fruit[257]. The ashes of the plant can be used as a mordant to fix dyes[257]. An oil is extracted from the seeds[4]. It attains a tallow-like consistency on standing and is used to make candles. These burn brilliantly, though they emit a pungent smoke[4]. The roots have been used as a perfume and deodorant[257]. The buds have been used on the body as a medicinal deodorant and perfume[257]. The leaves have been rubbed on the body as an insect and snake repellent[257]. Some caution should be employed here, see the notes above on toxicity[K]. The branches are tough and slender, they are stripped of their bark and split into several strands then used in basket making[46, 92, 94, 95, 149, 257].
Cultivation details
Landscape Uses:Border, Hedge, Massing. Succeeds in a well-drained fertile soil in full sun[11, 200], but produces its best fruit when grown close to moist ground[85]. Judging by the plants native habitat it should succeed in dry soils[K]. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. This species is closely allied to R. aromatica[11]. Plants have brittle branches and these can be broken off in strong winds[200]. Plants are also susceptible to coral spot fungus[11]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. Many of the species in this genus are highly toxic and can also cause severe irritation to the skin of some people, whilst other species such as this one are not poisonous. It is relatively simple to distinguish which is which, the poisonous species have axillary panicles and smooth fruits whilst non-poisonous species have compound terminal panicles and fruits covered with acid crimson hairs[1, 4]. The toxic species are sometimes separated into their own genus, Toxicodendron, by some botanists[200]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required. Special Features: North American native.
Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in hot water (starting at a temperature of 80 - 90c and allowing it to cool) prior to sowing in order to leach out any germination inhibitors[200]. This soak water can be drunk and has a delicious lemon-flavour. The stored seed also needs hot water treatment and can be sown in early spring in a cold frame[200]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame[200]. Root cuttings 4cm long taken in December and potted up vertically in a greenhouse. Good percentage[78, 200]. Suckers in late autumn to winter[200].
Other Names
Squawbush, Skunk bush,
Found In
Australia, Central America, Canada, Mexico, North America, USA,
Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :
Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Rhus ambigua 00
Rhus aromaticaLemon Sumach, Fragrant sumac42
Rhus chinensisChinese Gall, Chinese sumac23
Rhus copallinaDwarf Sumach, Winged sumac, Flameleaf Sumac, Winged Sumac, Shining Sumac42
Rhus coriariaElm-Leaved Sumach, Sicilian sumac21
Rhus diversilobaWestern Poison Oak, Pacific poison oak02
Rhus glabraSmooth Sumach43
Rhus integrifoliaLemonade Berry, Lemonade sumac20
Rhus microphyllaDesert Sumach, Littleleaf sumac20
Rhus ovataSugar Bush, Sugar sumac21
Rhus potaninii 02
Rhus punjabensis 32
Rhus punjabensis sinica 32
Rhus radicansPoison Ivy01
Rhus sempervirens 21
Rhus succedaneaWax Tree12
Rhus sylvestris 00
Rhus toxicodendronEastern Poison Oak02
Rhus trichocarpa 00
Rhus typhinaStag's Horn Sumach, Velvet Sumac, Staghorn Sumac42
Rhus vernixPoison Sumach01
Rhus wallichii 01
Rhus x pulvinata 42


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Expert comment
Nutt. ex Torr.&A.Gray.
Botanical References
Links / References
For a list of references used on this page please go here
Readers comment
Lawler Barnes   Sun May 31 2009

Nature Abhors a Garden Nature abhors a Garden for 4/12/09 discusses the use of skunkbush for baskets in New Mexico and its relation to fire.

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Subject : Rhus trilobata  

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