Description & Overview

Fragrant Sumac is a native Species of Concern in Wisconsin. It is a short, hardy shrub that stays between two and six feet tall with a suckering habit. In early spring, yellow flowers and catkins adorn plants before the leaves emerge. Summer brings green, lobed foliage. By late summer and into fall, reds, oranges, and maroons light up the landscape creating a beautiful display of fall color.

Core Characteristics

Category: Shrub

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 2-6 feet

Mature Spread: 8-10 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Upright, rounded, spreading, suckering, dense

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average soil

Flower: Yellow, cluster or catkin, polygamous (both unisexual and bisexual flowers on the same plant) or dioecious

Bloom Period: April

Foliage: Fragrant, trifoliate - 3 leaflets, green, up to 3" long

Fall Color: Red, orange, maroon

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Females have a red, dense, hairy drupe

Suggested Uses

Fragrant Sumac is found in the south-central counties of Wisconsin with some populations scattered in east Wisconsin, as well as in the peninsula. This plant prefers full sun to part shade, in sandy or rocky soil, but is extremely adaptable to many soil types and site conditions. Fall color is best in lighter soils. The fragrance that the leaves emit is pungent; some find it pleasant almost like lemon, while others, well, not so much. Female flowers produce small clusters of red berries in late summer which attract wildlife.

Slopes/Erosion Control: Its suckering habit makes Fragrant Sumac an excellent choice for stabilizing and filling slopes. The plant has the ability to root as the stems touch the ground adding more usage for slopes and bank stabilization.

It is not recommended for residential landscapes because of the aggressive spread.

Barrier/Hedge: Fragrant Sumac naturally forms a dense mass as it crawls along. Its many branches lend to its functionality as a barrier and hedge. Fragrant Sumac does tend to spread. If space for the hedge is limited there may be other more suitable choices.

Groundcover: Its relatively low-growing and spreading habit lends its usage as groundcover.

Fragrant Sumac is a native Species of Concern in Wisconsin. It is a short, hardy shrub that stays between two and six feet tall with a suckering habit…
Fragrant Sumac is a native Species of Concern in Wisconsin. It is a short, hardy shrub that stays between two and six feet tall with a suckering habit…

Wildlife Value

The dense branching makes excellent habitat and cover for wildlife. Red berries are an important food source for a variety of animals. Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Robins, woodpeckers, thrushes, deer, Gold Finches, Chickadees, Northern Flickers, opossums, chipmunks, and raccoons all go after the fruit!

Fragrant Sumac is the host plant to many moths such as Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon), Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops), Sumac Leafblotch Miner (Caloptilia rhoifoliella), Stripe Sumac Leafroller Moth (Sciota subfuscella), Lymantria dispar, Hickory Hairstreak (Satyrium caryaevorus), Edward’s Hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii), Ruddy Dagger Moth (Acronicta rubricoma), White-M Hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album), Striped Hairstreak (Satyrium liparops), Banded Hairstreak (Satyrium calanus), Geometer Moths, Owlet Moths, and Prominent Moths.

Flies, bees, and other insects such as Halictid bees, Andrenine bees, Cuckoo bees, Syrphid flies, Small Carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), gall fly larvae, treehoppers, long-horned beetles, stink bugs, and aphids use the flowers and foliage for sustenance.

Maintenance Tips

As mentioned previously, Fragrant Sumac, like many natives, has a tendency to sucker and spread. These suckers are easily controlled by mowing.

Prune every three years to remove roughly 1/3 of the older canes, cutting to the ground in late winter to encourage new growth.

Fragrant Sumac is a native Species of Concern in Wisconsin. It is a short, hardy shrub that stays between two and six feet tall with a suckering habit…
Fragrant Sumac is a native Species of Concern in Wisconsin. It is a short, hardy shrub that stays between two and six feet tall with a suckering habit…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes and No
Rabbit Resistant: Yes and No

No serious pests, though it can be susceptible to verticillium wilt, leaf spots, rusts, mites, and aphids.

Deer and rabbits will eat the fruits but typically leave the twigs and leaves alone.

Leaf Lore

Fragrant Sumac is a member of the cashew family Anacardiaceae. The genus Rhus is an ancient Greek word for Sumac, and the specific epithet aromatica means fragrant.

Leaves of Fragrant Sumac can be confused for Poison Ivy; however, Fragrant Sumac’s central leaflet doesn’t have a stem, whereas Poison Ivy does.

The bark’s high tannin content has made it useful as an astringent and in tanning leather.

Indigenous people used Fragrant Sumac in a variety of ways. The Lakota smoked the leaves of the plant with tobacco, while the Ojibwa used the bark and berries in medicinal ceremonies. The Ojibwa also made a poultice of the root and applied it to boils and as a treatment for diarrhea.

Companion Plants

Fragrant Sumac would look fantastic in a mixed deciduous screen or hedge with any of the following: Common Snowberry, Glossy Black Chokeberry, Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle, Carolina Rose, Sweet Fern, Gray Dogwood, Running Serviceberry, Bladdernut, Thimbleberry, Bottlebrush Buckeye, New Jersey Tea, and Scarlet Elderberry.

Fragrant Sumac is a native Species of Concern in Wisconsin. It is a short, hardy shrub that stays between two and six feet tall with a suckering habit…
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Written by Beth DeLain