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Plant type

Shrub

Size

7 - 33 ft Tall
30 ft Wide

Form

Mounding, Rounded, Upright

Growth rate

Fast, Moderate

Dormancy

Evergreen

Fragrance

Pleasant

Color

White, Pink

Flowering season

Spring, Winter

Common uses

Bank stabilization, Hedge

Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata) is an evergreen shrub to small tree that grows in chaparral in dry canyons and slopes below 4300 feet in southern California, Arizona and Baja California. In the southern part of its range (in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties), Sugar Bush generally grows in the foothills and mountains, and the closely related Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia) grows closer to the coast.

It has a rounded appearance, often growing wider than tall. Sugar Bush has thick,breddish twigs. Its foliage consists of dark-green, leathery, ovate leaves that are folded along the midrib. The leaf arrangement is alternate.

Its flower clusters, which occur at the ends of branches, consist of small, five-petaled flowers that appear to be pink but upon closer examination actually have white to pink petals with red sepals. Additionally, the flowers may be either bisexual or pistillate. The fruit is a small reddish, sticky drupe, about 0.2 to 0.5 inches in diameter, that is said to be edible.

Sugar Bush is tough, easy to grow, and very fast growing once established. A 5-gallon container plant will reach 10 feet in about three years if happy.

In nature, you'll almost always see Sugar Bush on slopes, though it grows well on flat areas in garden applications. It's one of the few larger chaparral shrubs that grows well in south-facing slopes even in the drier parts of its range, and it's a great bank stabilizer. It tolerates a wide variety of soils.

It grows fastest with full sun, just a little slower in part shade. It tolerates summer water up to 1x per month but shouldn't need any once established. It is incredibly healthy and typically will appear green and lush through the entire dry season without any supplementary water.

The biggest downside of this plant is that it can get huge, often more than 30 feet wide, and can aggressively crowd out nearby plants. It is said to be fire resistant, especially if given supplemental water.

Sugar Bush hybridizes often with Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia). A good rule of thumb for landscaping applications is: Within 5-10 miles of the coast, Lemonade Berry is a better choice. More inland, Sugar Bush does better.

Sun

Full Sun, Partial Shade

Water

Low, Very Low

Summer irrigation

Max 1x / month once established

Ease of care

Easy

Cold tolerance

Tolerates cold to 0° F

Soil drainage

Fast,Medium

Soil description

Tolerates a variety of soils.
Soil PH: 6.0 - 8.0

Propagation

By seed, but hybridization with Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia) occurs readily. To avoid hybridization, use cuttings. For propagating by seed: Soak in tap water for 24 hours and immediately sow any seeds that swell. Boil the rest in water 1 minute and cool immediately. Alternative treatments: oven heat of 230°F for 5 minutes. (Went et al., 1952); oven heat of 212°F for 5-10 minutes. (Stone and Juhren, 1951); fire treatment for maximum germination soak in concentrated H20S4, 1 to 6 hours, depending on seed batch and age (Wright, 1931).

Sunset Zones

9, 10, 11, 12, 14*, 15, 16, 17, 18*, 19*, 20*, 21*, 22*, 23*, 24*

A wide variety of chaparral plants including Toyon (Hetermoles arbutifolia), Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia), Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), Ceanothus species, Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), Giant Wild Rye (Elymus condensatus), Sand Aster (Corethrogyne filaginifolia), Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), Monkeyflower (Mimulus spp.), Encelia californica, Buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.), Heartleaf Keckiella (Keckiella cordifolia), Penstemon species, Salvia species, Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)

California Sagebrush

Artemisia californica

California Aster

Corethrogyne filaginifolia

Giant Wildrye

Elymus condensatus

Climbing Penstemon

Keckiella cordifolia

Caterpillars
Pollinators

Butterflies and moths supported

1 confirmed and 12 likely

Confirmed Likely

Western Avocado Leafroller Moth

Amorbia cuneana

Caloptilia ovatiella

Cochisea sinuaria

Spotted Dantana

Datana perspicua

Site type

Chaparral slopes, often south facing, often very hot and dry, from just inland of the coast to the mountains and desert transition

Plant communities

Chaparral, Coastal Sage Scrub