When most plants are finishing up for the season, Staghorn Sumac is just coming into its prime. During the growing season, the plant’s sturdy brown stems support leaves a foot or more in length, with many 4-inch leaflets, all grass-green. But in the fall, its brilliant red-orange fall foliage sets the landscape on fire.
Sumac is dioecious, which means that plants are either male (they produce pollen) or female (they produce ovules which become seeds). Female plants are adorned with showy clumps of dense, greenish flowers in early summer that darken into russet as the season progresses. By the time snow arrives, the flowers have matured into dark red berries that attract birds well into winter.
Individual shrubs, which may be pruned into multi-stemmed small trees, reach eight to ten feet in height and spread up to fifteen feet across. The entire plant is covered with a velvety hairy covering. As its name suggests, this fuzz is much like the velvet on a deer’s antlers.
Staghorn Sumac prefers full sun to part shade. It’s a good candidate for dry, rocky hillsides, as water and fertility needs are very low. Plants will succumb to soggy soil but are otherwise long-lived. They are hardy to about 7,500 ft. in Colorado. Unfortunately, they are sometimes severely damaged by deer.
Sumac not only demands our attention, it also insists on plenty of space. Allowing the suckering roots to spread results in an impressive mass of flaming vegetation, especially when highlighted against an evergreen background.
Feel free to enjoy this eastern native up close; Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is not closely related to Poison Sumac.