Content Detail

Fragrant sumac is a low growing shrub forming a thick, dense mass of stems. Use as a ground cover, in mass, and an excellent shrub for stabilizing banks and slopes.  The glossy, blue-green leaves emit a lemon scent when crushed, and turn a mixture of red, burgundy, purple color in the fall.  

This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.  

  • Family (English) Cashew, Sumac
  • Family (botanic) Anacardiaceae
  • Tree or plant type Ground cover, Shrub
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet), Small shrub (3-5 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Alkaline soil, Dry soil, Moist, Sandy soil, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought, Road salt
  • Season of interest early spring, early summer, midsummer, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous, Yellow
  • Shape or form Creeping, Mounded, Multi-stemmed, Thicket-forming
  • Growth rate Moderate, Slow

Size & Form:

This is a small rounded, spreading shrub which forms a dense thicket of stems growing to heights of 2 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide. The cultivar ‘Gro-low’ is often used as a ground cover as it is lower-growing.  It is a trailing-rooting and colonizing ground cover.  Trailing-rooting ground covers have trailing stems that spread out from a central root system.  These stems spread out horizontally over the ground and can root where they come in contact with the soil.  New shoots will be formed at the point where rooting occurs.  Colonizing ground covers produce underground stems that spread out horizontally and shallowly, produce roots and then send up new shoots.  These plants are strong growers and may have the potential to grow aggressively.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 10 It is native to eastern U.S.

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife:

Berries ripen in late summer and may persist into winter attracting many birds, including robin, sparrows, goldfinch, and chickadee.

Bark color and texture:

Stems are thin, brownish-gray and aromatic when crushed. Rust colored lenticels are present on young stems. There are no terminal buds, but overwintering male catkins are present.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Leaves are alternate and 1 1/2 to 3 inch long. These compound leaves are trifolate (3 leaflets). Leaf margins are irregularly toothed or lobed and often glossy on the upper surface, paler beneath. Shiny dark green in summer turn to a mixture of red, burgundy, purple and green in fall. Leaves emit a lemon scent when crushed.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Often dioecious, small clusters appear before the leaves. Male flowers are 1 inch, yellow-green catkins and persist through winter, female flowers are short panicles at the end of branches.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Female plants will produce dense, clusters of fuzzy red fruit in late summer to early fall.

Plant care:

Grows best in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. It adapts to dry, poor conditions, and is moderately drought tolerant and salt tolerant. It is an excellent shrub to stabilize slopes and create windbreaks. Stems will develop roots where it touches the ground. Prune every three years by removing 1/3 of the older, larger canes to the ground in late winter to stimulate new growth.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

No known serious problems, but sumac beetle, leaf spots, and scale are minor problems. It can be susceptible to verticillium wilt.

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Gro-low Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-low’ ):

This cultivar grows 2 to 3 feet tall with a 6 to 8 foot spread. This popular Midwest cultivar has aromatic green leaves which turn a red-orange in the fall. It is ideal as a ground cover or in mass lanting, and is an excellent shrub to stabilize on banks and slopes.

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