Content Detail

Fragrant sumac is a low growing shrub forming a thick, dense mass of stems. Used en masse as a ground cover, it is 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, and purple 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 Shrub, Ground cover
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • 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 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), 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

More Information

Size and 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 both 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 the eastern U.S.

Attracts Birds, Pollinators, or Wildlife

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

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 Arrangement, Size, Shape, and Texture

Leaves are alternate and 1 1/2 to 3 inches long. The compound leaves are trifolate (3 leaflets) and often glossy on the upper surface, paler beneath. Leaf margins are irregularly toothed or lobed. Shiny dark green in summer, they 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 that persist through winter, while female flowers are short panicles at the ends of the branches.

Fruit and Seed Descriptions

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

Care Knowledge

Plant Care

Grows best in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. It adapts to dry, poor conditions, and is moderately drought 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 insects are minor problems. It can be susceptible to verticillium wilt and fusarium. Leaf galls are common on this plant and may affect the appearance.


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 plantings, and is an excellent shrub to stabilize banks and slopes.


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