November 22, 2016

Plant File: Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac)

So what do you plant if you:
a) want brilliant fall color and
b) are avoiding the burning bush, which can be very invasive?

the staghorn sumac!

We happen to have an abundance of these around town.
I'm glad I got some pictures this year.
Seeing those brilliant reds and oranges just makes my heart sing!
(Although by this point, most of those leaves have fallen.)

Scientific name: Rhus typhina
Common name: staghorn sumac
Cold Hardiness: USDA zones 3-8
Native to Eastern North America. Yeah!
Full sun (for best fall color) to part shade.

*Yes, they are related to the poison sumac (Rhus vernix), but staghorn sumacs are not at all poisonous.
In fact, they're edible! (see below) *

The fuzzy-looking red part is the seedhead.
You can actually dry & crush the berries for a tart-flavored spice, or make a red lemonade out of the berries! Serious Eats has a post all about harvesting the sumac and using it in cooking.
Also, I just learned from that post that the poison sumacs have white clusters instead of red.
Now you know.
So go forth to forage, and don't get them mixed up!

p.s. If you aren't inclined to eat the berries, local wildlife will take care of it for you!

I also just learned from another site that the roots and inner bark can be used for dye.
All kinds of goodness here!

This one is still quite young, based on size.
These tend to spread horizontally more than vertically.
Opinions vary on height and width, (don't they always?!), but the average is 10'-15' tall x 15'-25' wide.
I will say though, it's fairly slow growing, so it may take it several years to reach its full height and width.
 It spreads from root suckers, so don't plant it if you don't have room for it to do its thing.
Otherwise, you'll be stuck removing the new little shrubs popping up from those roots forever and ever amen.

Check out this purple-red one!

I love these shrubs for their hardiness.
Not much seems to faze them.
They adapt to a variety of soil and are drought tolerant once established.
The one we had growing our back slope (in straight clay soil) survived 3 construction projects going on around it, before it finally succumbed to an early demise.
That was a sad day.

Bi-color. So cool!

The "staghorn" part of their name comes from the way the new branches are fuzzy, kind of like new antlers. So fun!

These have been around awhile.
They're down around one of our fire stations.
Grouped like this they are quite striking!

We just planted 3 more of them at the top of our slope this summer.
Oh yeah--they're good at holding up slopes, too.
Fibrous roots that spread out, and all that.

Here's hoping I have many more of these beauties in my future!

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