All About Staghorn Sumac

The staghorn sumac or Rhus Typhina, belongs to the cashew family. Staghorn sumac is related to the poisonous varieties of ivy, oak and sumac—all members of the genus Rhus. The staghorn sumac is not poisonous, but although its fruit can be eaten, it is more commonly appreciated for its unique beauty.

General Description

The staghorn sumac is a small tree that sometimes grows as a shrub. Some branches are covered in velvety hairs that make the stems resemble deer antlers. Its name staghorn is derived from this characteristic. Its fruits are tight clumps of pitted berries that are also covered in little red hairs. 

Sumac Stems and Leaves

The upper branches are covered in soft brown hairs, but the lower branches are hairless. The trunk grows up to 9 inches in diameter. The wood is high in tannins and was used as a tanning agent in the past. The leaves are pinnately compound, which means several leaflets are arranged around the stems. The leaves (the whole group) can reach up to 2 feet long, while the leaflets are about 3 to 5 inches long. The leaves turn a deep orange or red in the autumn.

Sumac Fruits and Flowers

The staghorn sumac flowers in June, and the fruit matures in late August. The fruits form brilliant crimson-colored tight cone-shaped clusters of fuzzy berries. The fruits are very bitter and rarely enjoyed raw and plain, but the fruits have been used to make wine and pink lemonade. 

Sumac Height and Breadth

Its average height is 10 to 15 feet tall, but it has been known to reach up to 30 feet. This tree generally grows about as wide as it does tall.

Growing Staghorn Sumac

The staghorn sumac is an easy plant to maintain as it can endure a variety of climates and soil conditions. The sumac can grow in moderately moist or dry environments. It prefers acidic soil but can grow in soil between the pH levels of 4.5 to 7.5. It prefers full to partial sun, but can grow in shady environments as well. The Sumac is hardy to zone 3.

Uses of the Staghorn Sumac

When growing wild, the sumac provides birds, rabbits and deer with food and a protected nested area. When growing around the yard, garden or farm, sumac creates a productive windbreak. Native American Indians used staghorn sumac leaves as a substitute for tobacco or made into a tea that treated constipation or other internal disorders or could be used as an antiseptic mouthwash.