Staghorn Sumac

Rhus typhina

Description & Overview

Staghorn sumac is a vigorous, colonizing small tree or large Wisconsin native shrub with great value to wildlife. It will thrive in exposed and challenging sites such as roadway embankments where few other plants would survive. It’s a low-maintenance plant (in natural or restoration settings) that offers multiple seasons of interest. This plant is not recommended for formal, homeowner landscapes.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 10-30 feet
Mature Spread: 20-30 feet
Growth Rate: Fast, Colonizing
Growth Form: Open, Spreading
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Doesn’t do well in poorly-drained soils
Flower: Dioecious. Female flowers are greenish-white, in 4-8” panicles
Bloom Period: June-July
Foliage: Large (24” long), bright-green leaves: Compoundly divided with 2–5” lanceolate-oblong leaflets
Fall Color: Yellow, Orange, Red
Fruit Notes: On female plants, clusters of hairy drupes ripen to a bright red color in late summer and persist through winter.

Suggested Uses:

This is an adaptable tough plant that will thrive where other species fail. Tolerant of rocky, dry, exposed sites, it’s a vigorous grower. This vigor makes it an unwieldy plant for the formal or space-limited landscape, but ideal for naturalizing and woodland gardens. It offers multiple seasons of interest and is a great asset to wildlife. While Staghorn Sumac has tremendous value in restoration projects, it’s worth reading Sumacs: The Good, the Bad & the Beautiful and Naughty Natives – Part 2: Shrubs before considering this plant in traditional/formal homeowner landscapes.

  • Native Restoration projects.
  • Great for slope stabilization on large areas.
  • Staghorn Sumac is commonly found, and planted, on embankments along highways and overpasses where pollution, salt spray, and heat can be the limiting factor for most other species.
  • Can be planted around Black Walnuts – NOT susceptible to juglone (Black Walnut toxicity).

Salable #2 Container Staghorn Sumac. Pictures taken in November.

Salable #2 Container Staghorn Sumac. Pictures taken in November.

Wildlife Value:

Staghorn Sumac has tremendous wildlife value. The flowers feed native bees and it’s a larval host plant to the Luna moth and Spring Azure butterfly. Over 300 species of birds dine on sumac fruit including: ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, eastern phoebe, common crow, northern mockingbird, gray catbird, American robin, wood thrush, hermit thrush, eastern bluebird, and quail.

Rabbits and squirrels will eat the bark, and deer will browse on both stems and fruits.

Maintenance Tips:

This is an extremely aggressive plant that’s not suited for a small landscape. Plant only in sites where it’s permitted to sucker and colonize. For some homeowners, the winter form of this plant looks extraordinarily bare – similar to a large stick coming out of the ground; if you are wanting winter interest, this may not be the plant for you.


Verticillium Wilt can be a problem – avoid planting in heavy, poorly-draining soils.

Leaf Lore:

  • The plant gets its specific epithet typhina from the stems covered in a brown pubescence, reminiscent of a buck or stag’s antlers covered in velvet.
  • A lemonade-like beverage, high in vitamin C and antioxidants, can be made by steeping the fruits in hot water.
  • The fruit, bark, and leaves are rich in tannins and were once used to tan hides.

Companion Plants:

Pair with other tough, spreading species suitable for erosion control such as Stephanandra (Stephanandra incisa) or spreading junipers (Juniperus spp) to add multiple layers to a bank. Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioica) is a similarly coarse-textured, hardy tree for tough, large sites. Evergreens, such as arborvitae or spruces, would provide a dramatic contrast to its bold fall color. Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Dwarf Bushhoneysuckle (Diervilla lonicera), or Cranberry Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus) would offer similar utilitarian, low-maintenance features.

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