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Scientific Name:
Rhus trilobata
Native Name(s):
  1. Pit River: kópcĭr (Garth 1953)


Rhus trilobata is an upright arching shrub that grows as tall as 0.5 to 2.5 meters. Roots are deep and extensively branched and born on with woody, shallow, spreading rhizomes. Shoots arise from rhizomes, or the root crown. Its deciduous leaves are alternate and compound with leaflets that each have 3 lobeds. The flowers are yellow to white and form in small, dense clusters on lateral shoots. Flowers bloom from April to July. Rhus trilobata produces fruits from June to October that can persist through the winter if they are not eaten. The fruits are red and sparsely hairy at maturity and range from 5 to 7 mm. in diameter.

Identification Tips

This species is distinct from Rhus integrifolia and Rhus ovata by its 3-lobed leaflets. R. integrifolia has wide to lance-elliptic leaves that are toothed at the margins. R. ovata has ovate-elliptic that are folded along the midrib.

Starch Granules

This species is starch deficient. Starch granules were not observed from fruits or seeds.


Rhus trilobata grows between 300 to 1000 m and its habitat ranges from prairies to shrublands and woodlands. It may grow on dry rocky slopes, stream sides, seasonal drainages, canyon bottoms, sand dunes, pastures, and roadsides on a range of soils from almost bare rock to sand and clays. The species is, however, intolerant of flooding and high water tables. 


This species is widely distributed throughout the United States and Canada.


Rhus trilobata fruits were used by Native Americans in foods, beverages, and medicines. Pliable young stems were woven with grass stems into durable baskets that would hold water.

As food

Pit River: "The Atsuge tied the fish into small bales with skunkbush cord and stored them in pits or in the cookhouse for the winter." (Garth 1953:136)

Pit River: "Skunk berries (kópcĭr, Rhus trilobata), were gathered in midsummer, washed, dried, and stored.  They were pounded into flour in a mortar basket, mixed with manzanita flour and water, and drunk.  Recently, a kind of jam has been made by adding sugar." (Garth 1953:139)

Other uses

Pit River: "Logs and tule rafts were excellent for gathering eggs or for hunting ducks and mud hens in the shallow lakes of the region.  Two or three ten-foot logs about a foot in diameter were bound together with service withes or skunk-brush rope to make a log raft.  Tule rafts were made by tying dried tules into bundles about eighteen inches thick, four of which were laid side by side and tied together." (Garth 1953:155)

Pit River: "[In regards to childbirth] At this time also the husband was whipped and made to run to the mountains.  It was his duty to stay active and collect wood by breaking off dead limbs...A new skunkbrush pack rope had to be made for each load of wood."(Garth 1953:158)

Pit River: "[In regards to the power quest] The first power quest undertaken by a boy when his voice changed was evidently equivalent in some measure to the girl's puberty ceremony; the boy was said to be having monthlies (áitšeĭki), he used a scratching stick, and he wore a skunk-brush belt."(Garth 1953:162) 


Distribution Map: