Poison sumac grows in swamps, bogs, depressions, and other wet sites. Poison sumac grows abundantly along the Mississippi River, but is less common in other regions. It grows as a woody shrub. Each stem contains 7 to 13 leaves arranged in pairs. It can also be found in acidic pine woods and shady hardwood forests. Poison sumac is found in most of the eastern United States, between Texas and Florida in the south, to Minnesota and Quebec in the north.
Poison sumac, along with the other species in the Toxicodendron genus, has a severe contact poison that causes extreme inflammation, swelling, and itching in susceptible individuals. The sap from the plants is found in all parts of the plant and is poisonous upon contact. Contact may be made by brushing past the leaves or the bare stems, or being exposed to smoke from burning plants. Poison sumac is much more poisonous than relatives such as poison ivy.
Poison sumac may be confused with other nonpoisonous plants, such as winged sumac (Rhus copallinum). The major difference is that winged sumac has leafy wings along the leaf stalk and has nine to 23 shiny leaflets, flowers in large conical clusters, and red fruits.