The genus Rhus contains a collection of tiny flowering trees and shrubs. The fern-like pinnate leaves, conical clusters (panicles) of white or green blooms, and fuzzy crimson fruits are all characteristics that identify amacs. Sumac trees and bushes produce magnificent fall hues of red, orange, or purple in the autumn.
The genus Rhus trees and shrubs grow between 3 and 33 feet (1 and 10 meters) tall. Edible red berry-like drupes are produced by sumac trees such as the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). The poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), a shrub that produces little lethal white fruits, is also present. However, by examining the berries, leaves, and twigs of edible sumacs, you can easily distinguish them from poison sumacs.
The conventional kinds of sumac trees and shrubs are described in this article. Sumac tree leaves, flowers, and berries may be identified in landscapes with the help of descriptions and images. Sumac bushes and trees are popular garden landscaping plants because of their spectacular fall colors.
About Sumac Plants (Trees and Shrubs)
The genus Rhus and the cashew family Anacardiaceae include sumacs, which are flowering woody trees and shrubs. Sumacs come in over 150 different species, with 14 of them being native to the United States. Most soil types support sumac trees and bushes, which may be seen developing in arid and poor soil.
USDA zones 3 through 9 are home to native North American sumac trees. Hardy sumac trees, like staghorn sumac, have a rapid development rate and may grow up to 24 inches (60 cm) every year. The suckering growth habit of sumacs is a characteristic. If you don’t remove the suckers, this characteristic allows sumacs to develop into multi-stemmed bushes.
Sumac species, including the fragrant sumac and smooth sumac, are deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the autumn. Sumacs, or native tobacco, has glossy green leathery leaves and is an evergreen type. The crown of most sumac trees is dome-shaped and spreads. For the front or backyards, sumac trees provide a wealth of decorating possibilities. Popular landscaping trees including sumac hedge, border, and screen. As attractive specimen trees, several sumac tree types are effective.
During the seasons, a sumac tree has a decorative appeal. Before the sumac tree’s leaves transition from dark green to magnificent red, orange, reddish-purple, and purple colors in the spring, cone-like green or white blooms emerge, followed by clusters of red edible berries.
Pinnately complex, glossy green leaves that resemble fern leaves are recognized on sumac tree leaves. Three to 31 elongated lanceolate leaflets with serrated margins make up each feather-like sumac leaf. Between 16 and 24 inches (40 and 60 cm) long, sumac leaves grow.
Sumac species with large leaves with shallow lobing are rare, despite the fact that most sumac species leaves are pinnate. The fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) has narrowly ovate leaves with only three leaflets per compound leaf, for example.
The vivid autumn hues of the leaves of sumac landscape trees are well-known. Sumac leaves turn a brilliant scarlet color in the autumn. Sumac shrubs and trees may be bright orange or warm yellow in color, which is not uncommon.
The five-petaled blossoms of sumac grow into conical, creamy-white or green clusters. Thousands of flowers may be seen on each sumac panicle. Flower clusters are 12 inches (30 centimeters) long and 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 millimeters) broad. In the spring, sumac trees blossom, and the blossoms last all summer.
Sumac fruits are drupes that grow in large cone-like clusters. They look like berries. Each little sumac fruit is 0.16″ (4 mm) in diameter. The red drupe has a fuzzy look because of the sumac berries’ fine hairs. The sumac fruits in the clusters are up to 12 inches (30 cm) long.
Sumac fruits are drupes, or fruit with a seed in the middle like a peach or apricot. They look like berries but are drupes. The crimson sumac drupes are high in vitamin C and have a fruity flavor with a strong acidic bite. Sumac spice, which is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, is made from sumac berries.
Edible sumac berries are usually crimson or brilliant red, and the red sumac spice is mostly produced from Syrian sumac (Rhus coriaria). Green in the summer and white in the winter, poisonous sumac berries are green.
Poison Sumac vs. Sumac
The berries, leaves, and twigs of poison sumac fruit are the easiest way to distinguish it from the edible sumac species. White poison sumac berries are common, while red edible sumac berries are more common. A poisonous sumac bush has smooth borders on its leaves, whereas a nonpoisonous sumac bush has serrated borders. In addition, like typical sumacs, poison sumac twigs are smooth.
Serrated margins (left) are found on sumac leaves, whereas smooth margins (right) are found on poison sumac leaves.
Sumac shrubs with edible red berries have fine hairs on their twigs, while poison sumac shrubs have smooth twigs. Poison sumacs, on the other hand, thrive in damp locations or bogs. Moreover, unlike staghorn sumacs, poison sumacs grow as a solitary plant rather than in clusters.
Sumac Tree Identification
Look at the leaves, flowers, and berries of sumac trees to identify them. The leaves of sumacs are fern-like and contain 3 to 31 leaflets. Sumacs’ cone-shaped white or green flower panicles, which grow into clusters of red fuzzy berries, are another distinguishing characteristic.
How to Grow Sumac Plants
The diverse plants that thrive in most environments include sumac trees and shrubs. Plant sumacs in well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade to ensure the plant thrives. The plants tolerate drought when sumacs are first established, but they flourish fastest when watered frequently. USDA zones 3 to 9 allow you to grow sumac trees.
Types of Sumac Trees (With Pictures)
Now that you know what sort of sumac trees to choose for your garden landscape, let’s take a closer look at them. If you want to add these beautiful plants to your garden landscape, looking at the identifying features of sumac trees can help you choose the best types.
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a tiny flowering tree or big shrub with huge pinnate leaves, greenish-white blooms, and vivid crimson drupes. Staghorn sumacs may reach a height of 15 to 25 feet (4.5 to 7.6 meters) and a width of up to 30 feet (9 meters). The open, spreading crown of the small tree USDA zones 3 to 9 are home to the staghorn sumac tree.
If there is sufficient drainage, the hardy, versatile, fast-growing tree thrives in a variety of soils. The roots of the sumac plant can be used to reproduce it. In Eastern North America, you may see staghorn sumacs growing wild.
The forked branches of Rhus typhina look like stag horns, which is why it is known as Rhus typhina. In addition, the staghorn sumac has been dubbed velvet sumac and vinegar sumac for its delicate, velvety texture. From spring through summer, the staghorn sumac tree blooms. Up to 8 inches (20 cm) long and 6 inches (15 cm) wide, each cluster of greenish-white flowers grows. Flowers, unlike the leaves, which have a citrusy fragrance when crushed, do not have any particular odor.
Staghorn sumac blooms (left) at a very early age. Staghorn sumac lemon-scented leaves are pinnately compound with up to 31 lanceolate, serrated leaflets measuring 3″ to 6″ (7.5 – 15 cm). Female blooms produce a cluster of spherical, fuzzy fruit. The fern-like leaves may grow up to 24 inches (60 cm) long. Staghorn sumacs turn rich red, orange, or golden yellow in the autumn.
Sumac berries: Staghorn sumac red berries are beautiful clusters of tasty drupes that can be found on the leaves. Late in the autumn and through the winter, fuzzy red berries bloom. In the winter, the sumac berries turn a deep crimson color, adding to the tree’s beauty.
Large feather-like green leaves, cone-shaped clusters of green-white or red flowers, and red berry clusters that stay on the tree from fall until spring are all characteristics of staghorn sumac trees.
Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)
Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is a large deciduous shrub with shiny fern-like leaves, conical greenish-yellow flowers, and black red berries. It has an open, spreading crown made up of smooth sumac leaves. In the autumn, smooth sumac bushes take on vibrant red and orange hues. Smooth sumac plants range in height and breadth from 8 to 15 inches (2.4 to 4.5 meters).
The smooth sumac is a low-maintenance landscaping plant that thrives in USDA zones 3 to 9. The colorful shrub thrives in both full and partial sunlight, and it can withstand periods of drought. Smooth sumac blooms have upright panicles of dense clusters made up of little green blossoms. From spring until the end of summer, cone-shaped clusters reach 4″ to 10″ (10–25 cm) in height and bloom.
The hairless, reddish bark of a smooth sumac shrub is one way to identify it. The smooth feel of the twigs gives the common name Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) its name. The bark of most sumacs is fuzzy and velvety. Smooth sumac bushes may be difficult to distinguish from poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) due to their hairless bark and twigs. poisonous sumacs have white berries and non-serrated margins on their leaves, so it’s important to remember that.
Smooth sumac leaves are huge, dark green compound leaves with 11 to 31 pointed leaflets. The serrated edges and oblong-lanceolate form of the individual leaflets are characteristic of sumacs. The leaves are up to 6 inches (15 cm) broad and 12 inches (30 cm) long. Smooth sumac leaves change color in the autumn, becoming scarlet or orange.
Sumac berries: Smooth sumac berry-like drupes produce in clusters of crimson fruits that turn maroon-brown throughout the winter. The berries have a hairy look and tangy, citrusy flavor, as do other edible sumac fruit. Hairless, smooth twigs, broad pinnate leaves, clusters of greenish-yellow blooms, and crimson autumn berries are all indications that a smooth sumac plant is present.
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)
Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) is a small, low-growing woody shrub with aromatic glossy green smooth leaves, tiny clusters of blooms (catkins), and tiny red berries. Sumac bushes become golden, scarlet, yellow, and purple colors in the autumn. Fragrant sumacs grow to be 2 to 6 feet (0.6 to 1.8 meters) tall and 10 feet (3 meters) broad.
Fragrant sumac shrubs are cold-hardy plants that grow in USDA zone 3 to 9, just like all sumac variations. The tiny shrub thrives in a range of soils and can tolerate dry spells when growing in full sun or partial shade. Little clusters of fragrant sumac blooms are bright yellow spring blooms. The catkins are 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) broad when fully developed. The lovely scents of fragrant sumacs are one of the sumac’s distinguishing characteristics. A lemony citrus fragrance wafts from the blooms, twigs, and leaves.
The fragrant sumac develops as a dense ground cover for full sun or border plants, and it blooms as a tiny shrub. Pollinators are drawn to gardens by the cheerful yellow sumac blossoms. This decorative landscape shrub can be cultivated in poor, dry, or clay soil. Unlike most species of sumac plants, the fragrance-scented ovate-shaped leaves are found on the sumac tree.
Three large leaves make up the trifoliate leaves. The bigger middle leaf is spatula-shaped, and the outer leaves are ovate. The fragrant sumac leaves may grow to be 3 inches (7.5 cm) long. Fragrant sumac leaves turn orange, red, or reddish-purple in the fall.
Sumac berries: Sumac berries are tiny and crimson with a hairy appearance. They have a fragrant sumac fruit and leaves. In otherwise barren landscapes, the fuzzy red drupes appear in late summer on the bushy aromatic shrub and provide winter color.
Ovate leaves growing in groups of three are a good sign that you’re looking for fragrant sumac shrubs. In late summer, the tiny yellow flower clusters develop into fuzzy red berries at the ends of twigs.
Other Varieties of Sumac Plants
Other trees and shrubs in the sumac family of flowering woody plants have certain identifying characteristics, which we’ll look at now.
Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum)
Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) is a deciduous shrub or small tree with multiple stems. It has multi-stemmed branches. The huge, pinnately complex leaves, yellow flower clusters, and scarlet fall hues distinguish the native sumac tree. The sun-loving shrub grows between 7 and 15 feet (2.1 and 4.5 meters) tall and broad in USDA zones 4 to 9.
Sumac plants have a lot of characteristic features, including fast growth and Winged sumac flowers and fruit. The fuzzy red berries persist until late in the winter, clusters of pale yellow feathery blossom panicles. The vivid hues of orange and red are in full display this time of year.
Dwarf sumac, brilliant sumac, and flameleaf sumac are some of the other names for winged sumac plants.
Evergreen Sumac or Tobacco Sumac (Rhus virens)
A small tree or shrub known as Evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) With spreading branches, the fast-growing evergreen sumac grows to be 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.6 meters) tall. The leaves of evergreen sumac are five to nine leaflets on each compound leaf and are thick and leathery.
The evergreen sumac has clusters of white flowers at the end of branches that are 2 inches (5 cm) long and is sometimes known as Lambrisco or Lentrisco. Early in the autumn, fuzzy red oval drupes emerge.
The sumac plant loses its leaves after winter, despite being referred to as an evergreen shrub. This lovely shrub, on the other hand, does not turn red during the winter. When the shrub loses its leaves, new ones sprout quickly.
African Sumac (Searsia lancea or Rhus lancea)
The African sumac is a shrub-like evergreen tree with unusual strap-like pointed, olive-green leaves, aromatic yellow flower clusters, and brown berries. It is classified as Searsia lancea / Rhus lancea. The clusters of three long leaves, each 4″ (10 cm) long, are the identifying feature of the African sumac. Due to its oval, broad, spreading canopy, the sumac has a weeping appearance with these arching leaves.
African sumac trees grow to be 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 meters) tall and broad. The tree grows quickly if it gets enough water, at a pace of 24 inches (60 cm) each year. The sumac, on the other hand, can handle dry, arid climates.
Only USDA zones 9 through 11 have mature African sumac trees. The hot, full sun thrives on drought-tolerant African sumac trees. The African sumac has thick evergreen leaves, as opposed to other sumac trees native to the United States. The tree is ideal for shade or windbreak because of its fast growth.
Here are some other varieties of sumac trees and shrubs
Sugar Sumac (Rhus ovata)—With folded, ovoid leaves in the midrib, this tiny tree or shrub is a big green. Beautiful pink and white flower clusters emerge in the ‘sugar bush’ in the spring. This hardy, low-maintenance tree grows 4 to 10 feet (1.2 to 3 meters) tall and broad. USDA zones 7 to 11 are suitable for Rhus ovata.
Elm-Leaved Sumac (Rhus coriaria)—This huge shrub with pinnate sumac leaves is also known as Sicilian sumac or Tanner’s sumac. Its spectacular red fall foliage and clusters of edible crimson berries make it a favorite landscape tree. In USDA zones 9 and 10, elm-leaved sumac thrives.
Littleleaf Sumac (Rhus microphylla)—From all of the plant species in the genus Rhus, this sumac species has the tiniest leaves. In the autumn, clusters of tiny pinnate leaves create a rose-colored effect. This ornamental landscape shrub is also known for its white flowers and orange-red berries. The plant grows up to 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall in USDA zones 6 to 10 and is commonly known as the desert sumac.
Prairie Sumac (Rhus lanceolata)—Long, pinnately compound leaves turn fiery red in the autumn on this small ornamental tree or large shrub. The landscape plant has greenish-white blooms and dark red fruits, and is also known as the flameleaf sumac or prairie flameleaf.