Rhus typhina | Staghorn Sumac
Staghorn Sumac, also known as Velvet Sumac, is a diocious 15-25 ft tall, colony-forming, deciduous shrub with crooked, leaning trunks, picturesque branches and velvety twigs that resemble deer antlers.
The large, bright-green, pinnately-compound leaves put on a colorful show of red and orange during the autumnal months. Female plants produce conspicuous yellow-green flowers that are followed by fuzzy, tightly-packed, bright red berries in pyramidal clusters which persist throughout winter. Reaches tree size quickly and can form thickets overtime, spreading by both seed and underground rhizomes.
Staghorn sumac is most effective when drifts or colonies are allowed to establish, which are often single-sexed, formed from a single, suckering parent. Only female plants produce berries (our tree colony is female). Colonies can be rejuvenated every few years by cutting them to the ground in mid-winter. Sumacs grow in dry waste areas, such as impossible slopes where even other tough plants may struggle. They are fast growing, generally pest and disease-free, and extremely drought-tolerant. However, the thin bark makes sumac especially sensitive to lawn mowers and string trimmers. Wounding triggers development of replacement sprouts.
Sumac are valuable to honey bees and native bees as they use it for nesting materials, and the berries make great winter food for many gamebirds, songbirds, and large and small mammals.
Plants can be easily propagated from early winter root divisions by placing root cuttings in flats of moist sand, or grown from seed. The seeds must be scarified and winter stratified 1/2- 3/4 in. deep, so it is perhaps best/easiest to scatter outside during the cold autumn and winter months to sprout naturally. Once one plant is established it will form a colony within a few years.
Sumac is an ancient medicinal plant that can stabilize free-radicals through the antioxidant capacity of its vitamin C and related bioflavonoids. In this way, it’s anti-inflammatory. Native Americans used Sumac to treat colds, sore throats, fever, infections, diarrhea, dysentery and scurvy. Sumac has also been used to treat asthma and cold sores. As a diuretic, sumac leaf moves deep, stagnant water out of the body, reducing edema and water retention. It’s helpful for swollen tissues and varicose veins, too. It can also lower blood sugar as it has hypoglycemic properties and can aid in diabetes management. Ground berries mixed with clay creates a salve used on open wounds, and Sumac berries are sometimes used by beekeepers to smoke their hives. Despite the berries having a fuzzy look and feel, the Sumac fruit cluster is technically edible. It’s used to make an herbal drink called ‘Indian Lemonade’, but is only really enjoyable when prepared properly by straining the fuzzy hairs from the liquid after soaking, and before consuming.
It should be noted that people who have sensitive skin or severe allergies may have an allergic reaction to Staghorn Sumac. Other plants in this family including mangos and cashews, can also cause irritations and inflammation.
Sun exposure: Full sun to full shade
Mature height: 15-25 ft
Mature width: 20 ft
Hardiness zones: 5-8