African Sumac

Scientific name: Rhus lancea
Family: Anacardiaceae
| Podcast Script
Whole Tree


Angiosperm, Dicot, evergreen


The small, evergreen tree can range from 15 to 30 feet in height with equal spread of its canopy at maturity. During its growing season, the tree can grow as much as two feet per year.

Identifying Features:

Some of the most distinguishable features of the African Sumac are its small, greenish-white flowers and trifoliate shiny, dark green leaves that can grow up to 5 inches long. The berry-like fruit of the tree consists of small black seeds with a paper-like coating. The branches, which can grow in almost any direction, range in color from a brownish-grey to red. On a larger scale, the tree can be identified by its dense, green canopy and usually multi-trunked base.


The African Sumac Tree, as suggested by its name, is native to South Africa. It grows best in an arid climate. Although it has been introduced to various locations within the United States, it is well-suited to parts of Arizona.


The flowers are dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female parts on different plants. Only the female trees, one of which is shown in the photographs above, have the greenish-white flowers mixed among their leaves. The flowers produce clusters of small, yellow berry-like fruit which contain the black seeds for reproduction.

Water/Sun Requirements:

The African Sumac requires full sun to partial shade. While the tree is still young, it needs water every one or two weeks. Once the plant has become an established tree, it is drought tolerant and requires less water.

Special Adaptations:

Due to the climate where the tree grows, the African Sumac has adapted to become both drought and frost resistant.

Other Info:

  • The African Sumac is a popular tree on golf courses because it provides a lot of shade. Additionally, the tree is widely valued for its ornamental characteristics.
  • Branches from the tree were historically used to make bows.
  • Soaking the fruit of the species in milk can also be used to make beer.
  • "Common Names (in other languages): Karee (English), Karee or Rooikaree (Afrikaans), mokalabata, Monhlohlo, Motshakhutshakhu (Northern Sotho), iNhlangutshane (Siswati), Mosinabele, Mosilabele (South Sotho), mosabele, Mosilabele (Tswana), Mushakaladza (Venda), umHlakotshane (Xhosa).

Reference Sources/Links:

Created by Mercy B. 2007