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The vinegar tree is a popular ornamental plant that is presented in different varieties in the garden and draws attention to itself with unique inflorescences. These give the plant the name deer butt sumac, because together with the branches they are reminiscent of the antlers of a deer. The name of the plant comes from the taste of the fruit, which is reminiscent of vinegar. This is the reason why many garden owners wonder if the vinegar tree is poisonous or not.

Is the vinegar tree poisonous?

Whether the deer butt sumac is poisonous can be determined from the ingredients that are present in the plant. Because of this, the plant is called slightly toxic classified, especially the following plant parts

  • leaves
  • fruit
  • bark
  • root
  • wood
  • milky juice

Only the blossoms of the vinegar tree can be classified as non-toxic, as they contain extremely small amounts of toxic components and cannot cause any symptoms. In complete contrast to the rest of the plant, because all parts contain correspondingly high amounts of the ingredients:

  • tannins
  • flavonoids
  • triterpenes
  • ellagic acid
  • cell sap (strongly acidic)

Especially the cell sap is to be mentioned here, which is responsible for the characteristic vinegar taste. The tannins are one of the components of the plant, which occurs in large quantities and, together with the cell sap, is responsible for the toxic effect. The triterpenes should also be mentioned here, which are mainly found in the milky sap of the plant, which runs through the entire plant. This makes the milky sap one of the greater dangers of the vinegar tree, as it is found in most parts of the plant and can get on the body or be ingested very quickly. The flavonoids it contains, on the other hand, are the substances that give the plant its characteristic color. The non-toxic flowers contain the following substances:

  • vitamin C
  • fruit acids
  • flavonoids


As already mentioned, the flowers do not pose any danger to humans or animals. They are even eaten because of their aroma. At this point, the fact must also be mentioned that the actually poisonous fruits can be consumed when processed. For centuries, Native Americans used these to make a cooling beverage known today as "Indian Lemonade." In the past, the fruits were also eaten just like that, as they represented a refreshment due to the sour vinegar taste. They were also part of the vinegar production. The fruits only contain a slightly higher proportion of toxins, which makes consumption possible. Nevertheless, the consumption harbors possible dangers, which will be discussed in the next section.

tip: Rhus typhina is easily confused with other species within the genus, above all the tanner's sumac (Rhus coriaria), which is also known under the names dyer's tree and spice sumac and has the same toxicity except for different flavorings. Significantly more poisonous, on the other hand, are the poisonous oak-leaf ivy (bot. Rhus toxicodendron) and the poisonous climbing ivy (bot. Rhus radicans), which do not really resemble the vinegar tree in appearance.

effect on people

Despite its ingredients, the vinegar tree does not pose a real problem, since large quantities of the fruit or leaves have to be consumed before poisoning occurs. However, you should be careful not to eat too many of the fruits. Although these are enjoyable, children, weakened, sick and elderly people in particular suffer from the tannins and acids they contain. The following symptoms are typical:

  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • diarrhea
  • stomach and intestinal pain
  • kidney pain
  • liver pain
  • dizzy spells
  • a headache
  • liver damage

You should pay particular attention to the milky sap, as it can cause painful inflammation on the skin. If this gets on your mucous membranes, for example the eyes, it can lead to inflammation. Children in particular should not be allowed to come into contact with the plant for too long, as the youngsters like to wipe their hands on their eyes. At this point, the vinegar tree becomes poisonous and you must go to the doctor as a precaution to prevent possible consequential damage. Also give fresh water to flush the ingredients out of the body.

effect on dogs

As a dog owner, you don't have to worry that much. The plant is also for the four-legged friends slightly toxic, but in most cases dogs do without the plant parts. They often don't even play with the branches, but that's not the case with puppies. Dogs must eat a large amount of vinegar tree plant parts before they develop health problems from vinegar tree. The following symptoms can be:

  • Vomit
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • Irritation of the gastrointestinal tract

More dangerous is the milky sap, which after chewing on the leaves can get on the mucous membranes, which can lead to pain and inflammation.

tip: Dogs are not the only ones who can be injured by contact with latex, as it is poisonous to all animals, no matter how big or small. Animals with little fur, such as a sphinx cat or a Chinese crested dog, are particularly susceptible to the milky sap because their small amount of fur does not really protect against the ingredients.

effect on cats

If you are a cat owner, you should take care of your cat. Compared to other animals, cats have a much poorer sense of taste, which does not make the animals shy away from eating poisonous plants. Because the animals' senses are developed in a different way than dogs, they explore their surroundings through their mouths, much like small children. Since the vinegar tree is primarily poisonous when consumed, this poses a major problem for cat owners as the dangers of consumption are quite high. If your cat has been poisoned with Rhus typhina, this is reflected in symptoms that are similar to those in dogs. The milky juice that lines the mucous membranes represents a greater danger.

The reason for this is the cleaning behavior of the animals. Since house tigers clean themselves intensively and touch their eyes and nose with their previously licked paws, severe irritation quickly occurs. In most cases, these are the reason for complaints from contact with the plant.

effect on small animals

Small animals, such as children and cats, are particularly susceptible to the tannins and acids in the plant parts of Rhus typhina. Some species tolerate eating or gnawing on the branches much worse than others:

  • Guinea pig
  • chinchillas
  • hamster

Mice, hares, rabbits and rats should also avoid consumption, but these pets can tolerate significantly larger amounts of the plant. Nevertheless, the symptoms can be quite severe if larger amounts of the plant have been consumed:

  • stomach pain
  • intestinal irritation
  • diarrhea
  • dizzy spells

Of course, going to a veterinarian is recommended here, since small animals are much more sensitive creatures than house tigers or man's best friend. Don't forget to take a piece of the plant with you to the doctor, as this will allow for an accurate analysis.

effect on horses

Make absolutely sure that horses do not eat the leaves of the vinegar tree. Since these are within reach and above all at the height of the animals, they are quickly tried on, which can lead to a variety of problems. Horses are only poorly protected against the ingredients, above all the acids and tannins, and fall ill quite quickly, even if the quantities of plant material consumed are small. Symptoms upon consumption are as follows:

  • nausea
  • Vomit
  • upset stomach
  • diarrhea
  • severe colic

Symptoms become more severe depending on the amount of the poisonous vinegar tree consumed. However, since horses have an excellent sense of taste and prefer sweet foods, really large amounts are consumed only in rare cases. Sometimes the animals can have slight inflammation of the eyes or nose when chewed leaves or fruit touch the mucous membranes. If you suspect poisoning from the vinegar tree, you should also consult a veterinarian here. Due to the body size of mounts, unlike cats or small animals, they must consume large amounts for a truly intense poisoning.

notice: Please note that this article is by no means a substitute for a doctor's visit. There is no guarantee of the correctness of medical statements.
Detailed information on first aid in the event of poisoning and important information on the poison control centers can be found here.

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