Herb: Wax Tree

Latin name: Rhus succedanea

Synonyms: Toxicodendron succedaneum

Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew Family, Sumac Family)

Medicinal use of Wax Tree:

Antidote, antivinous, cholagogue, febrifuge, ophthalmic. Used as a wash to counteract varnish poisoning. Use with extreme caution, see notes above on toxicity. The fruit is used in the treatment of phthisis. A wax from the fruits is used in ointments. An ethanolic extract of the leaves exhibits anticancer and antiviral activities.

Description of the plant:


9 m
(30 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Forests and shrubberies to 2400 metres in the Himalayas.

Edible parts of Wax Tree:

Fruit. The acid pulp is eaten. The edible fruit contains ellagic acid. These reports need to be treated with some caution due to the general toxicity of the species.

Other uses of the herb:

The leaves contain about 20% tannin. They can be collected as they fall in the autumn and used as a brown dye or as a mordant. The sap is tapped and used as a lacquer. It is much used in Japanese art and needs to be kept in a cool humid place for it to dry properly. The Japanese traditionally kept their paintings in a damp cave until the lacquer had dried. A yellow dye is obtained from the wood. A wax obtained from the fruit is used to make candles, floor wax, varnish etc. The fruit contains about 17% wax. The fatty acid composition of the wax is 77% palmitic, 5% stearic and arachidic, 6% dibasic, 12% oleic and a trace of linoleic. The seed oil contains 25% glycerides of palmitic, 47% oleic and 28% linoleic.

Propagation of Wax Tree:

Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Pre-soak the seed for 24 hours in hot water (starting at a temperature of 80 - 90c and allowing it to cool) prior to sowing in order to leach out any germination inhibitors. The stored seed also needs hot water treatment and can be sown in early spring in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, 10cm with a heel, July/August in a frame. Root cuttings 4cm long taken in December and potted up vertically in a greenhouse. Good percentage. Suckers in late autumn to winter.

Cultivation of the herb:

Forests and shrubberies to 2400 metres in the Himalayas.

Known hazards of Rhus succedanea:

This plant contains toxic substances which can cause severe irritation to some people. The fresh sap causes skin blisters. The leaves contain the ubiquitous carcinogen shikimic acid.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.