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Staghorn sumac is often used in mass plantings, for naturalizing, or on steep slopes. Its open habit and hairy stems resemble horns on a male deer, giving it its name. It is one of the last plants to leaf out in the spring with bright green leaves that change to an attractive yellow, orange, and scarlet in fall. Among the most recognizable characteristics are large, upright clusters of fuzzy red fruits that appear above the branches in late summer on female plants. They are highly appealing to birds.   

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 or Sumac
  • Family (botanic) Anacardiaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Compact tree (10-15 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Chicago), Zone 6, Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Dry soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Clay soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought, Road salt
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, early summer, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Yellow
  • Shape or form Broad, Irregular, Multi-stemmed, Thicket-forming
  • Growth rate Fast

Size and form:

Staghorn sumac is one of the largest native sumacs reaching up to 25 feet tall and wide. A large, open, colony-forming shrub that spreads by runners. 

Native geographic location and habitat: 

C-Value:  1  It is native to the eastern and midwest United States. Often found growing on rocky slopes, dry forest edges, lake shores and sandy shores. 

Bark color and texture:

Young stems are reddish-brown and densely hairy. Older twigs are stout and lose their hair, but remain brown. Mature bark is thin and gray with raised lenticels. Broken twigs are aromatic when crushed.

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

Alternate, large compound leaves with 11 to 25 leaflets. Each linear leaflet is dark green and hairy above with a smooth, white color beneath. Leaf margins are finely toothed. The leaf stalk (rachis) and petioles are also hairy. One of the last plants to leaf out in spring. Fall color is an outstanding yellow, orange and scarlet. Leaves are aromatic when crushed.

Flower description:

Dioecious, separate male and female flowers on separate plants. Large, dense terminal clusters of greenish yellow, up to 12 inches long appear in June and July.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Dense, fuzzy clusters of dark red fruits appear in early fall and often persistent through winter.  

Plant care:

Staghorn sumac does best in full sun and well-drained soil. Although it is very adaptable to most growing conditions, from poor soils to drought conditions. It does not tolerate wet soils. Spreads by root suckers to form large colonies. Unwanted suckers can be mowed or removed to keep plants manageable.

List of pests, diseases and tolerances:

It is susceptible to leaf spots, rust, and verticillium wilt. It is tolerant of black walnut toxicity and salt conditions.

“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.

Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’):

Wide-spreading, colony forming reaching eight to 10 feet high and 12 to 15 feet wide. Finely divided green leaves, ferny-like. Orange, red and yellow fall color.

Tiger Eyes® Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’):

A golden cutleaf form with chartreuse green leaves changing yellow, orange and scarlet in fall. Upright to rounded, reaching 5 to 6 feet high and wide.

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