July 23, 2016

Mostly clear

Green Scene: Staghorn sumac

Special to The Gazette

Plant: Staghorn sumac

Common names: Velvet sumac, Scarlet sumac

Latin name: Rhus typhina

Description: From summer green to deep red, the small beautiful sumac shrub is not poisonous, unlike its “poison” sumac relative, Toxicodendron vernix, formerly known as Rhus vernix.
Indeed, the staghorn sumac, now fabulous in November, has long graceful and soft fuzzy stems (like deer antlers) and bright red colors on lengthy lance-shaped leaves. Overall, the stem and leaf pattern mirrors that of a Boston or ostrich fern, except in shrub form.

Growing 15 to 25 feet, the multi-trunk shrub grows fast. It reproduces readily from seeds which fall from large soft plume blossoms. Each plume, holding thousands of tiny feather-like foliage, help viewers distinguish it from the poisonous sumac type, which grows only pea-sized berry clusters.

Origin: Native to northeastern United States and southern Canada, Rhus typhina belongs to the Anacardiaceae family.

Tips: Easy to grow in a sunny setting and dry soil, the sumac shrub is cold hardy and perennial in Ohio. It is deciduous, losing its leaves in winter, but leafs out in the spring mounding the landscape a soft green and eventually red for fall. The sumac shrub self seeds, but also spreads by ground roots.

Varieties: Able to withstand hot summers and cold winters, the sumac shrub is quite ornamental. Depending on type, the sumac shrub may hold fuzzy or smooth branches in colors ranging from orange brown to gray to dark brown and black. Male shrubs can form plumes, but female blossoms hold about 50 seeds per plume. Rhus glabra is considered the “smooth” sumac.

How to use: Grow sumac in clusters or as a focal point. Its beauty is often overlooked and underused, but can be seen in park settings or in the airy woodlands. The sumac makes a good wind block, natural hedge or addition to a landscape or garden bed.

In autumn, cut stems and use as a colorful indoor arrangement or centerpiece. Blend with other deep red autumn fruits such as apples, cranberries, pomegranates, grapes etc. for a stunning holiday display. Tender stems and leaves can be thin enough to dry for winter indoor color.

Use dried leaves and/or stems for pressing, framing or scrapbooking.

In winter, the sumac provides a feast for wildlife.