Sumac

Native Shrubs ... in wildlife landscaping

West Virginia Native Plant Society
West Virginia Nongame Wildlife Program

Staghorn (Velvet or Hairy) Sumac - Rhus typhina
Smooth Sumac - R. glabra
Shining (Winged) Sumac - R. copallina
Fragrant Sumac - R. aromatica
Poison Sumac - R. vernix

  Form: Staghorn - Shrub or small tree with a few large upright branches, usually 15 to 25 feet high.
Smooth - Shrub to 15 feet height, open, with few branches.
Shining - Shrub or small tree, usually 10 to 20 feet tall.
Fragrant - Fast growing rambling shrub to 6 feet tall, dense growth.
Poison - Shrub or small tree, open branching, usually 10 to 25 feet tall.
  Bark and Twigs: Staghorn - Large twigs covered with dense reddish-brown hairs, yellowish wood, milky sap if twig broken.
Smooth - Large twigs are smooth and gray, frequently coated with a whitish substance, flat sided twigs, milky sap if twig broken.
Shining - Twigs medium-sized, velvety and covered with raised dots.
Fragrant - Twigs small, hairy, with yellow buds.
Poison -Bark gray with many small cross streaks circling the trunk, twigs smooth.
  Leaves: All are alternate, compound with terminal leaflet (Note: Fragrant has a 3-parted compound leaf).
Staghorn - on margins, whitish cast to leaflets, turns bright yellow-scarlet in fall.
Smooth - 8 to 16 inches long with 11 to 31 leaflets, stalk of leaf smooth, turns orange-scarlet in fall.
Shining - 8 to 12 inches long with 15 to 23 shiny leaflets, stalk of leaf with winged margins between the leaflets, turns crimson or purplish in fall.
Fragrant - 3 leaflets, hairy, fragrant smell when crushed, turns orange-red or red-purple in fall. Very similar in looks to Poison Ivy and Poison Oak.
Poison - 8 to 12 inches long with 7 to 13 leaflets, smooth leaflet margins.
  Fruit: Staghorn - Long, pointed clusters of small red seeds covered with dense, long, red hairs.
Smooth - Long, pointed clusters of small red seeds covered with short red hairs.
Shining - Open, pointed clusters to 6 inches length, red seed covered by sparse short hairs.
Fragrant - Small clusters of up to 20 red hairy seeds.
Poison - Clusters of open gray to white seeds without hairs.
West Virginia Range:
Staghorn - Throughout West Virginia.
Smooth - Throughout West Virginia.
Shining - Common except at high elevations.
Fragrant - Most common in eastern counties of Berkeley, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hardy, Mercer, Mineral, Pendleton, Pocahontas, and Summers. Also from Mason, Raleigh, and Wirt.
Poison - Rare, known from Mineral, Monongalia, Pocahontas, Preston and Randolph counties.
Natural Habitat:
Staghorn - Open hillsides, old fields and fencerows.
Smooth - Open hillsides, old fields and fencerows.
Shining - Old fields and rocky hillsides.
Fragrant - Dry rocky woods and banks.
Poison - Swamps and bogs.
Wildlife Use:
Sumac fruits are not preferred by most animals and birds but the red fruits do remain on the shrubs throughout winter and provide emergency food when more desirable foods are scarce or gone. Birds such as grouse, turkey, bluebirds, and robin rely heavily on the fruits as do many winter songbirds. Rabbits and deer eat bark, fruits and foliage.
Horticulture:
Uses: Staghorn and Smooth - Large groups on poor soils and waste areas. Shining - Border, specimen or large group on dry, waste areas. Fragrant - Groups, foundation planting, rock gardens, cover for banks and steep barren areas. Poison - All parts too toxic for use near humans.
Light: Full sun..
Soil Moisture: Staghorn, Smooth, Shining - Prefer moist, well-drained soil but can grow on very poor, dry soils. Fragrant - Dry soils. Poison - Wet soils.
Soil pH: Acid to neutral.
Problems: Most sumacs have few serious pests. Verticillium wilt sometimes kills Staghorn Sumac. Sumacs are short-lived but produce root suckers freely which will replace any individuals killed or which die naturally. Poison sumac is to toxic to be considered as an ornamental.

Compiled by: Emily K. Grafton, botanist, naturalist and environmental educator, Morgantown, West Virginia

Written by West Virginia Native Plant Society members and jointly published with the WV Nongame Program

Illustration from Flora of West Virginia, Strausbaugh and Core