Contact Info
Missouri River Institute
The University of
South Dakota
414 E. Clark Street
Science Center
Vermillion, SD 57069

Financial support for website development provided by the
Living River Group
of the
Sierra Club




Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)

Smooth sumac is a small shrub or tree that is commonly found along the banks of the Missouri River, and may reach heights of up to 20 feet tall.  The bark is light brown and smooth on young plants, and becomes darker as the plant ages.  Twigs are stout, angular, smooth, and covered with a whitish coat that can be wiped off.  Leaves are pinnately compound with 7-31 leaflets that are green on the upper surface and nearly white on the lower surface.  In the fall, the leaves turn bright red, and a cluster of round red fruits on the top center of the crown harden and turn brown.  Smooth sumac is native to, and occurs throughout the U.S. and into southern Canada, but is most common in the eastern U.S.  Smooth sumac is usually found on disturbed sites, abandoned fields, railroad edges, and fence rows.  Smooth sumac grows in large clusters, and is known to shade and replace native prairie and woodland plant species.  Many woodland bird species consume smooth sumac berries throughout the year, including wild turkeys, Northern cardinals, mourning doves, brown thrashers, and Eastern bluebirds.  It should be noted that smooth sumac is different from poison sumac, which is known to cause skin irritations very similar to those caused by poison ivy.  

Sandbar Willow (Salix exigua)

Sandbar willow is a common native shrub throughout the Great Plains, and is very prevalent along the banks and islands of the Missouri River.  It grows in height to 20 feet and quickly forms willow thickets on sand or gravel deposits along streams, ditches, sloughs, and other places frequent to flooding.  Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, and are narrowly lance-shaped and pointed at both ends.  The margins (edges) of the leaves are shallowly toothed with widely spaced teeth.  This shrub is dioecious, which means that male and female flowers are produced by separate plants.  Sandbar willows are often used for stream and river bank stabilization and riparian area development or restoration.  Sandbar willows form dense riparian habitat which is utilized by numerous wildlife species including deer, riparian songbirds, and beavers.  Bark and leaves from the sandbar willow were commonly used by Native Americans as medicine used to treat headaches, toothaches, and fevers.   

Missouri Gooseberry (Ribes missouriense)

The Missouri Gooseberry is a native woody shrub that grows to heights of 4 feet, and is relatively common within the riparian forests along the Missouri River.  Branches are grey to brown and become woody as the shrub ages.  Thorns are readily noticeable along the branches, and range in length from less than ¼ inch, to over ½ inch.  The leaves occur alternately along the stems in bundles of 1 to 3.  Each leaf is up to 2" long and they are palmately lobed.  Small white to green or purple flowers bloom for about 2 weeks each year in late spring.  Each fertilized flower will be replaced by a small green berry about 1/3 of an inch across, that will eventually turn red or dull purple later in the summer.  Missouri gooseberrys prefer to grow in areas with partial sun, and slightly dry conditions.  In excessive shade, flowers and fruit may not be produced.  Nectar and pollen from the flowers attract both honey and bumblebees, and may also attract butterflies, hummingbird moths, and wasps.  The fruit is occasionally eaten by some songbirds including catbirds, robins, brown thrashers, and cedar waxwings, and also by some mammals, including Red Fox, Eastern Skunk, Raccoons, Red Squirrels, and White footed Mice.  These animals help to disperse the seeds to new locations.

Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis)

The black raspberry is a native perennial shrub that produces branched stems up to 6 feet long during their first year of growth.  These branches are initially erect, but eventually arch sideways and downward.  Along the stems are prickles and thorns that are short and curved.  The leaves are alternate and compound, and usually trifoliate (3 leaved).  Flowers are small (about ½ inch across) and are bunched tightly together.  Blooming occurs in late spring to early summer and lasts 2 to 3 weeks.  Each flower will eventually be replaced by a fruit (known as a drupe), that will be about 1/3 of an inch in diameter when fully mature.  The fleshy drupes are sweet and slightly tart in flavor, and are used as a food source for many upland gamebirds, songbirds, and mammals.  Black raspberries prefer to grow in areas with partial sun, and a moderate amount of moisture.  In areas that are too sunny and dry, the fruit may not develop without adequate rain.