Staghorn Sumac Trees: Characteristics, Uses, Benefits, and Questions

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By Ben


Staghorn sumac trees (Rhus typhina) are deciduous trees or shrubs that are native to North America. These trees are popular for their beautiful foliage, which changes color from green to red in the fall, and their clusters of red berries, which persist through the winter. But staghorn sumac trees are more than just a pretty face; they also have a number of practical uses and health benefits. In this article, we will explore the characteristics, uses, and benefits of staghorn sumac trees.

Characteristics of Staghorn Sumac Trees

Staghorn sumac trees typically grow to be 15-25 feet tall and wide, although they can reach up to 35 feet under ideal conditions. They have a spreading, open canopy and grow well in full sun to partial shade. Staghorn sumac trees are hardy, adaptable, and easy to grow, making them a popular choice for landscaping and gardening.

The leaves of staghorn sumac trees are compound, meaning they are made up of multiple leaflets attached to a central stem. The leaflets are oblong and sharply toothed, and they turn a brilliant red or orange in the fall. The flowers of staghorn sumac trees are small and greenish-yellow, and they bloom in dense clusters at the tips of the branches in late spring or early summer. These flowers are followed by clusters of fuzzy red berries, which persist through the winter and provide food for birds and other wildlife.

Uses of Staghorn Sumac Trees

Staghorn sumac trees have a number of practical uses. The berries of the tree can be used to make a tart, lemonade-like beverage known as sumac-ade. To make sumac-ade, the berries are steeped in cold water, then strained and sweetened to taste. Sumac-ade is a refreshing and nutritious drink that is high in vitamin C and antioxidants.

In addition to their culinary uses, staghorn sumac trees have a number of medicinal benefits. The bark and leaves of the tree contain compounds that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. These compounds may help to reduce inflammation, fight off harmful bacteria, and protect against oxidative stress and cell damage.

Staghorn sumac trees are also used for landscaping and erosion control. Their spreading, open canopy provides shade and habitat for wildlife, and their deep root systems help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion. Staghorn sumac trees are also popular for their ornamental value, as their foliage and berries are attractive and eye-catching.

Benefits of Staghorn Sumac Trees

Staghorn sumac trees provide a number of benefits to both humans and the environment. As mentioned, they are a good source of food and medicine, and they provide habitat and shelter for wildlife. In addition, staghorn sumac trees are able to thrive in a variety of soil types and conditions, making them a good choice for reforestation and ecosystem restoration projects.

Staghorn sumac trees are also important for their ability to improve soil quality. They are able to fix nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that plants can use, which helps to enrich the soil and support plant growth. Staghorn sumac trees also have deep root systems that help to break up compacted soil and improve soil structure.


Staghorn sumac trees are a versatile and valuable plant that provide a range of benefits to both humans and the environment. Their attractive foliage and berries make them popular for landscaping and ornamental purposes, while their culinary and medicinal uses add to their practical value. Additionally, their ability to stabilize soil and improve soil quality make them a valuable addition to reforestation and ecosystem restoration projects.

Overall, staghorn sumac trees are an excellent choice for anyone looking for a beautiful and useful tree that is easy to grow and maintain. Whether you are interested in using them for food or medicine, or simply want to enjoy their ornamental value, staghorn sumac trees are sure to provide years of enjoyment and benefit.


Is staghorn sumac tree poisonous?

Answer: The staghorn sumac tree is not poisonous, according to the information provided. Although some people associate the name “sumac” with toxic plants, not all sumacs are toxic. The common sumac species that grow along roads and in fields, including the staghorn and smooth sumac, are not poison sumac and are harmless to touch. Therefore, there is no need to worry about staghorn sumac tree being poisonous.

Do sumac trees smell?

Answer: Yes, sumac trees can emit a strong and unpleasant odor, especially from their flowers. They are known by several names such as stink tree, stinking sumac, Chinese sumac, and varnish tree due to the distinct, offensive smell they release. Therefore, it can be concluded that sumac trees do have a smell, which can be quite pungent in some cases.

Does staghorn sumac spread?

Answer: Staghorn sumac trees primarily spread through the growth of suckers, which are new stems and root systems that form from buds on existing plants. Unlike some other plant species, staghorn sumac does not typically spread by seeding itself. For optimal growth, staghorn sumac trees require a sunny location and well-drained soil that is not overly fertile or rich in organic matter. Therefore, staghorn sumac spreads through suckers and prefers specific growing conditions to thrive.

Are sumac trees good for anything?

Answer: Yes, sumac trees have several practical uses. For instance, Tanner’s sumac or Sicilian sumac, which is a species of sumac, has been used historically for various purposes. The dried fruits of sumac trees are used in spices, while the leaves and bark have been used in the leather tanning process. Additionally, different parts of the plant can be used to produce various dyes. Therefore, sumac trees are valuable for their practical uses in the food industry, leather tanning, and dye production.

Can you touch a sumac tree?

Answer: It is generally safe to touch a sumac tree, as the urushiol oil that can cause skin irritation is found inside the plant and does not typically come into contact with the skin when brushing against an intact plant. However, it is worth noting that undamaged sumac plants are rare, and urushiol oil can easily stick to tools, shoes, clothing, or any other surface. Therefore, touching contaminated surfaces or plants can cause a reaction in susceptible individuals. It is always a good practice to take caution when coming into contact with sumac trees or any other potentially irritating plants.

Is staghorn sumac a tree or bush?

Answer: Staghorn sumac is a deciduous shrub that can grow to be 15-30 feet tall. It is known for its picturesque branches, crooked and leaning trunks, and velvety twigs. The plant has large, bright green, pinnately-compound leaves that turn extremely colorful in early fall. Therefore, staghorn sumac is categorized as a shrub, not a tree.

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