Staghorn SumacRhus typhina
View more from Other Shrubs & Hedges
30 day - ARRIVE AND THRIVE™ guaranteeLearn more
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Staghorn Sumac is certainly one of our most attractive native shrubs, with large and beautiful fern-like foliage, magnificent fall colors of red and orange, and attractive red seed heads. It is easily grown and can reach sizes of 20 feet tall and wide as a tree, or lower as a shrub. It grows quickly, filling in empty spaces, covering banks and edging woodlands or streams. Its spreading habits are useful for large areas, but for smaller gardens choose one of the cut-leaf forms, which are smaller.
Full sun or partial shade both suit the Staghorn Sumac just fine. It grows in virtually all soils, including poorer ones and urban soils, as long as they are not too wet. Once established it is drought resistant, and usually free of any significant pests or diseases. Plants can be pruned in spring as needed to limit the size, and even cut back completely to the ground, stimulating lots of fresh, new, replacement stems.
Many gardeners want to landscape with native plants, but some are more difficult to grow, and less visually satisfying, with few outstanding features. We could never say that about the Staghorn Sumac. With its graceful leaves, turning great shades of orange and red in fall, and its striking red seed clusters, this native shrub is also easy to grow, even in urban settings, and its size can easily be controlled with simple pruning, if you need a smaller plant. It’s so easy and reliable that it is often overlooked as a garden choice. That’s a mistake, because this is one native plant that earns its place with everyone, from those looking for ‘simple and easy’ to the most demanding, design-conscious gardener.
The Staghorn Sumac is a fast-growing deciduous shrub to small tree that can grow over 20 feet tall and wide, but that is easily controlled and kept under 10 feet, or even smaller. It has angular branching, with the branching rising up and arching outwards, so that in winter it can indeed resemble the antlers of a deer. The stems are thick and covered with a reddish-colored felt when young – like that on the young horns of a deer, another reason for its name. Stems become smooth and gray brown as they mature, and finally more rugged, with vertical grooves, on old stems. The yellowish wood is soft and easily cut when pruning. Young plants will grow up from the roots, making it possible to cover large areas.
The leaves are divided, with a central stem and between 13 and 27 leaflets along it, in a fern-like way. Leaves can be up to 24 inches long, and the individual leaflets up to 5 inches long. They are pointed with jagged edges, and mid-green. The leaflets hang downwards a little, giving a graceful and attractive look to this plant. In fall the leaves turn brilliant shades of yellow, red and orange, making an outstanding display of fall color.
Clusters of small greenish-yellow flowers form at the ends of the branches in June and July, and often develop (on female trees) into seed clusters shaped like pyramids, up to 8 inches long. These turn from green to bright red by fall, then to dark red, persisting for much of the winter. The seeds are embedded in a fuzzy flower cluster. These flower heads are also a great decorative feature on this shrub.
The graceful elegance of the foliage of the Staghorn Sumac makes it valuable as a background plant for larger beds, or for filling corners of your yard. Since its size is easy to control you can use it in many situations, and since it will take some shade it can be grown in places where it can be hard to find suitable shrubs. Use it to fill spaces along a fence, or as a boundary between wooded areas and your lawns. Fill larger spaces of poor soil, or plant it on slopes where it will look great and control erosion as well. For mass planting space bushes 4 to 6 feet apart. For smaller gardens choose one of the varieties with even more ornamental foliage, like Tiger Eyes®, or the Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac.
The Staghorn Sumac is very hardy, growing well even in zone 3, and a great choice throughout most of the country, growing even in zone 8. Plants in colder zones do not grow so large.
Full sun will give the best fall colors, but the Staghorn Sumac will grow in partial shade too, so it grows in many garden situations. It grows best in soil that isn’t too dry, but is happy in just about any soil, including urban soils. It grows well in moist ground, but not in wet, boggy places. Once established it is drought resistant.
Generally free of pests or diseases, the Staghorn Sumac is easy to grow and fast-growing. Water new plants regularly until they are established.
Plants can be pruned up into a multi-stem tree form if wanted, or kept lower and more shrubby with annual pruning in spring. Cut back taller branches to lower forks, and if neglected you can even cut established plants right back to the ground – new stems will soon sprout from the roots and fill the space with fresh, new, lower-growing bushes.
The staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina, is native to North America, growing wild at the edges of woodlands, along streams and around swamps, and also along roads and railway lines. It can be found across a large area, from Quebec west into Ontario and Minnesota, and south to Georgia, Indiana and Iowa. The red fruit clusters can be soaked in water, strained, and sweetened to make a tangy, pink drink once called ‘Indian Lemonade’. Native Americans used to add the leaves and seeds to tobacco for smoking. Young stems can be peeled and eaten raw.
Although widespread, the Staghorn Sumac remains a valuable and versatile shrub for easy landscaping, especially in colder zones where choices are limited. For fall color it is outstanding, and this is one of the most attractive native bushes we have. Plant it freely in larger gardens, but order now – this popular bush soon sells out.