One of the easiest shrubs to identify throughout the year, staghorn sumac has a spreading, open form growing up to 15 feet (4.6 m) tall. Tiny green flowers in the spring are insignificant, but are later replaced by large cones of crimson berries that remain throughout the winter. Leaves are alternate, compound and turn a beautiful scarlet red in the fall. Buds are small, covered with brown hair and borne on fat, furry twigs. Bark on older wood is smooth and grey to brown.
Sumac is commonly found on abandoned farmland, near old homesteads or along fence-rows. It prefers full sun but will grow under light shading. Sumac does best on well-drained sites and will not tolerate flooding. Even in poor soil, it usually makes good growth and requires little care.
This is a very difficult shrub to grow from seed, but fortunately it spreads prolifically from root suckers. Most people who have these shrubs growing on their lawn will let you have some young plants. Dig up small shoots early in the spring before the leaves have formed. It is best to move young sumac to a nursery bed. Water well and keep the bed mulched. After a year or two, they can be transplanted out to the final site. Cuttings can be made in the late fall, from roots or stems, but we have not attempted this yet. If you are trying sumac from seed, collect cones when crimson, separate individual berries and plant closely, about 100 to 200/square foot (.09 sq. m). The seed coat is very hard and may take many years to break down.
Berries are a preferred food source for ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, eastern phoebe, common crow, northern mockingbird, gray catbird, American robin, wood thrush, hermit thrush, eastern bluebird and European starling. It is also used by over 30 other species, and since the fruit hangs on throughout the winter, is another excellent emergency source of food. Honeybees are attracted to the flowers in spring.
Areas of Usage:
A good choice for landscape plantings around the home, especially where spreading from root suckers will not be a problem. Its distinctive shape, exotic foliage, furry twigs and cones of red berries make it one of the best ornamentals available. Sumac can be used in clumps for more natural plantings, or as a single specimen with root suckers controlled by mowing. Shallow, wide-spreading roots make sumac a good choice for soil conservation along slopes, streams and pond-sides if the soil is well-drained. Staghorn sumac is an excellent addition to a windbreak if the spreading root suckers will not cause problems. Since it is resistant to salt, this is one of the best native shrubs for protection along shorelines or highways.
The Staghorn Sumac, a small tree or upright shrub, is found in this province mainly east of Charlottetown. Ordinarily it is 10 to 15 feet high with a short, more or less crooked and inclined trunk. The branches are irregular in form and divide into comparatively small number of stout curved twigs which suggest the horns of a stag – hence the name. The beautiful scarlet, fern-like foliage in the autumn and the persistent, bright red cone-shaped fruit clusters are the two main distinguishing characteristics. It will not grow in the shade of other trees and is usually found on dry rocky or sandy soils, along fences, roadsides, and old pastures. It is seldom found with other trees. The wood is used for decorative finished and in making wooden novelties. The tree is also planted as an ornamental.