Lemonade Berry

Rhus integrifolia

pink pods on branch
Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) is a common evergreen shrub in the coastal sage scrub and chaparral. The leaves are thick and waxy, which reduces transpiration, allowing it to remain green during our long dry summers.
The pale pink flowers are followed by red seeds, the size and shape of corn kernels. Seeds are covered with a pale, somewhat gooey coating that is sour like lemon, giving it the common name.

The Kumeyaay brewed the seeds into a tea. Modern hikers drop a seed or two into their water bottles for a slight tang.

Other Common Names:

Lemonadeberry

Description 2,4,27,59

Lemonade berry is a rounded, aeromatic, evergreen shrub usually less than 10 feet (3 m) tall. The trunk is short and stout, and twigs and smaller branches are noticeably thickened.

Leaves are thick and leathery, broadly oval, 1 – 2 3/8 inches (2.5-6 cm)  long, with smooth or coarsely serrate margins, flat or cupped to the underside. Mature leaves are dark green, younger leaves brighter; the newest leaves and young stems may have a reddish tinge.

Flowers are small, radially symmetrical, about ¼ inch (6 mm) across and white to pink in color. Flowers are born in terminal clusters which appear Dec-May.  Plants generally bear bisexual flowers; some plants may have only female flowers. Major bloom period is February to May.1

The reddish fruit are flattened, ¼-½ inch (6-13 mm) wide. Young fruit are coated with a gray, viscous material that disappears as the season progresses. The coating is very sour with a flavor similar to lemon.

 

small white and red pods on branch
tiny pink flowers on branch
large green bush

Distribution 7

Lemonade berry is native to California, primarily occurring below 3000 feet (900 m) south of Pt. Conception and west of the Peninsular Range.

Lemonade berry is an important species in mixed chaparral; it is also found in the coastal sage scrub.
Lemonade berry is widely distributed in the Reserve above the marshes. The rounded shape of single plants can often be seen rising from surrounding sage scrub, and it sometimes forms a dense thicket edging the trail.
ariel view of conservancy

Classification 2,11,34,44

Lemonade berry is a dicot angiosperm in the Sumac family, the Anacardiaceae. Members of this family have small, five-petaled flowers each of which produces one seed with a hard seed coat that is surrounded by fleshy tissue or some form of a gelatinous coating. Many have resinous or milky sap.

Many members, such as poison oak and poison ivy, contain urushiol which produces severe contact dermatitis. Other members of the family, such as cashews and mangos are familiar food crops.

Lemonade berry is the only member of the Rhus genus to occur in the Reserve, but other family members are present, including the closely related laurel sumac (Melosma laurina) and poison oak (Toxicodendron diversiloba).

Jepson eFlora Taxon Page
leaves on branch
large bushes on side of trail
tiny pink flowers

Ecology

Like other shrubs of the chaparral, lemonade berry is drought-adapted by having leaves that are relatively small, thick and leathery to retard water loss. Rigid internal leaf structure prevents the leaf from wilting,32 and they are ready to take up water after any shower. Under conditions of extreme drought, leaves may orient vertically to reduced insolation and heating.27

Like many chaparral shrubs, lemonade berry can survive most natural wildfires. New vegetative growth is produced from the roots, and many seeds survive the heat to germinate.14

ariel view of large green bush
tiny pink flowers on branches
orange-red cylinder pods

Human Uses

Kumeyaay and early settlers soaked the berries in water to make a refreshing beverage;16 when sweetened, it is a bit like lemonade. Kumeyaay ground seeds into a beverage to drink when feverish.16

Lemonade berry makes an attractive shrub for a drought tolerant garden.24,79 It needs sun, little summer water, and well-drained soil. It takes well to pruning, has few pests, and provides important shelter for wildlife.
orange-red cylinder pods
tiny pink flowers clumped on branch
large green bush with clumps of tiny pink flowers throughout

Interesting Facts

Like leaves of many evergreens, drought-tolerant shrubs, which are thick and leathery, the leaves of lemonade berry do not wilt.27

The short, stiff branchlets make excellent support for funnel-web weaving spiders, and their flattened webs often festoon lemonade-berry shrubs.

Some people are sensitive to contact with the sap of lemonade berry, breaking out in an itchy rash that is similar to the rash of poison oak.24,36

The genus name, Rhus, comes from an ancient Greek word for sumac.21

branch with small orange-red pods
tiny white and pink flowers on branch
white and red pods

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