rhus typhina trio


This is a small tree (which can also be grown as a shrub) that can be a bit of a thug, as it spreads freely by root extension, but it’s lower growth is thin enough to allow other plants to live alongside it. I have a few here at Old School Garden and it is a great tree for adding an oriental feel, has interesting foliage (especially in the autumn) and some unusual flowers.

Common name: Stag’s Horn Sumac

Native areas: It is primarily found in Southeastern Canada, the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Appalachian Mountains, but is widely cultivated as an ornamental throughout the temperate world.

Historical notes: Introduced to the U.K. in 1620’s it won the R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit in 2002. Some beekeepers use dried sumac bobs as a source of fuel for their smokers. The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade. The leaves and berries have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes. All parts of the Stag’s horn Sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is also rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness. In both French and German, the common name of the species (Sumac vinaigrier, Essigbaum) means “vinegar tree”.

Features: Rhus typhina is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5 m (16 ft) tall by 6 m (20 ft) broad. It has alternate, pinnately compound leaves 25–55 cm (10–22 in) long, each with 9–31 serrate leaflets 6–11 cm long. The leaf petioles and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. The velvety texture and the forking pattern of the branches, reminiscent of antlers, have led to it’s common name. The Sumach is dioecious (male and female flowers produced on separate plants), with yellow-green flower clusters, followed on female plants by dense crimson fruiting heads. 

Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eyes'

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’

Uses:  Rhus typhina provides interest throughout the year and is spectacular in autumn when its foliage turns fiery orange, gold, scarlet or purple. The effect is greater when set against the dense cones of red fruit borne by female plants. To get the best from this autumn colour plant it in a sheltered position away from strong winds; otherwise, as here in Old School Garden, you won’t see the leaves for very long! It’s vigorous, suckering habit makes it unsuitable for smaller gardens. Some landscapers remove all but the top branches to create a “crown” effect in order to resemble a small palm tree. There are about 200 species of Rhus and numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use, of which ‘Dissecta’ (syn.’Laciniata’ or Cutleaf Stag’s Horn Sumac) has deeply cut leaves. ‘Dissecta’ will survive winters as low as minus -12°C and then regain new growth the following season. 

Growing conditions:  It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in dry and poor soil on which other plants cannot survive. Some species can be pruned hard to the ground every other year in early spring to produce handsome foliage plants. The inner sections of the trees are woody and pithy . It is advisable to wear gloves because the sap is potentially harmful.

Picture by Alain Delavie

Picture by Alain Delavie

Further information:


RHS- Rhus typhina

RHS- Rhus typhina ‘Dissecta’

Horticulture Week- ~Rhus typhina

‘Thorny Problems: How can I get rid of Sumach suckers?’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Rhus typhina

Old School Gardener