One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: the sumac, Rhus coriaria, of southern Europe. In later use: any of numerous small trees, shrubs, and climbers constituting the genus Rhus (family Anacardiaceae), which are characterized by milky, often irritant, latex and which include many allergenic plants as well as the sumac and the staghorn sumac, R. hirta (formerly R. typhina), grown as an ornamental. Also (in form Rhus): the genus itself.
Mid 16th century; earliest use found in Robert Copland (fl. 1505–1547), translator and printer. From classical Latin rhūs sumac from ancient Greek ῥοῦς, of uncertain origin; perhaps from the base of ῥεῖν to flow, on account of its juice.
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