Everything You Need to Know About Sumac Shrubs!

Everything You Need to Know About Sumac Shrubs!

red sumac

It’s nearly fall and very soon the Sumac bushes in your area will light up the landscape with their incredible fiery autumn wardrobe!

Sumac Shrubs may be in high demand mainly for their fall color, but the Sumac has been highly underutilized as a landscape workhorse because of its association with ‘poison’ Sumacs.

However, these super hardy native shrubs aren’t poisonous and have loads to offer throughout the year!

  • About Sumac Shrubs
  • Sumac Flowers
  • Sumac Berries
  • Sumac Form & Foliage
  • Sumac Shrub and Tree Landscape Value
  • Caring For Sumac Shrubs
  • Stunning Sumacs!

About Sumac Shrubs

Sumac bushes, sometimes spelled Sumach, botanically known as Rhus, belong to a family of plants that contain about 200 species. The Smooth Sumac, also known as the Scarlet Sumac (R. glabra) and many other common names depending on your area, is native to the eastern and central US.

red smooth bud close up

The Sumacs offered by Nature Hills are not poisonous like the similarly named Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix - previously known as Rhus vernix).

Members of the Cashew family (Anacardiaceae), the Sumac encompasses both deciduous and evergreen plants. The evergreen Sumacs are generally in tropical locations, while the deciduous Sumacs are predominant in the United States. Several species are ornamental hybrids that have incredibly colorful foliage all growing season in addition to their unique flower and seed pods!

The plants had considerable benefits in the day-to-day lives of Indigenous Americans as medicine and a source of black ink and dye. The bark and leaves were for tanning leather and even dried leaves and fruit were used as tobacco. They used the wood for a wide variety of uses, as well as making a Lemonade-like drink called Sumac-ade from the fruit. The dried, ground fruit of Sumac is used as a spice, popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. Lending a lemony flavor improves the taste of various salads and meat dishes.

Sumac Flowers

Beneficial insects seek out the sweet nectar from the terminal flower clusters that appear in spring as fluffy pyramidal to cone-shaped panicles. Usually white, cream, green, or yellow in color, the flowers are sought after by bees, beetles, and wasps as they gather pollen.

The Fragrant Sumac is even a vital caterpillar host plant for 54 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the Red-banded Hairstreak and Spring Azure Butterfly. Winged Sumacs are host to Luna Moths too!

Sumac Berries

sumac berries

Often these trees and shrubs are dioecious, meaning that they develop male and female flowers on separate plants, and only the female plants produce the fruit.

Wildlife is attracted to the Sumacs fruit that forms into showy pointed clusters (called Sumac bobs) in the late summer and fall, usually turning a fiery red, auburn, burgundy/maroon, or orangey-russet. Humans even use the berry-like drupes to make the aforementioned tangy drink!

These pointed clusters remain persistent throughout the winter for fall and winter interest and bird food!

Sumac Form & Foliage

Often forming an airy open shrub, colony, or tree form (with pruning), Sumac has an elegant multi-branched structure and can be trained into a very pleasing canopy with ease!

Birds and wildlife appreciate the shelter the open branching and the ferny leaves provide.

Sumac has fuzzy new growth and gave rise to the Staghorn Sumacs name, due to the velvet-covered antler-like branches that can be smooth or hairy! Even the bark is covered with fine hairs that give it a velvety texture. This textured bark and branching usually do a good job keeping deer at bay unless they’re quite desperate.

Most Sumac have pinnately compound leaves that can consist of 11 to 13 leaflets arranged in long rows, sometimes further lobed or having loosely serrated edges. The Fragrant Sumac, Gro-Low Sumac, and Autumn Amber Sumac stand out as having tri-lobed leaves that are aromatic when brushed, passed or crushed!

sumac roots

Sumac Roots

The shallow root systems send up suckers and form polite colonies that are easy to control or encourage depending on how you wish to utilize your Sumac.

Wildlife and Bird Value!

Hunters and wildlife conservation areas plant drifts of Sumac shrubs to provide forage and shelter for many birds including the ring-necked pheasant, quail, wild turkey, and about 300 species of songbirds.

Some of the Sumac offered by Nature Hills include -

sumac infographic

  • Autumn Amber Sumac
  • Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac
  • First Editions® Tiger Eyes® Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • Gro-Low Sumac
  • Prairie Flame Sumac
  • Rocky Mountain Sumac
  • Smooth Sumac
  • Staghorn Sumac

Sumac Shrub and Tree Landscape Value

These ornamental Sumacs are beloved in the landscape because of their graceful form, tropical-looking leaves, fall color, and colorful fruit clusters! They almost look Palm-like while they sway in the breeze. Often living 30-50 years in optimal conditions!

Sumac is a hardy shrub with no significant disease or insect problems. They are also tolerant of urban conditions and pollution, as seen in their widespread use along highways and in busy commercial landscapes.

Very cold-hardy throughout USDA growing zones 3 to 9, these shrubs handle a wide range of growing conditions! Growing in sunny, hot, dry conditions, and very poor soils, where other shrubs struggle. If you have thin, rocky soils or a steep slope on your property, cover the ground for you quickly!

Sumac is an ideal choice when used along the edge of a woodland area or as a crown jewel in the Rock Garden! Use these gorgeous native shrubs as borders, airy hedges, or as foundation plants in your garden! Use in either the sun or understory areas of your landscape, larger forms look great ‘limbed up’ tree form specimen plantings or in en masse drifts!

sumac tree

Sumac grows almost anywhere! Find success growing these adaptable shrubs in the hell strip along the sidewalk, screening your property off from the road, or along the roadsides in ditches. Readily naturalizing and spreading, many Sumac varieties create thickets by way of polite suckering.

Add fragrant foliage to your outdoor garden rooms with the Fragrant Sumac, or enjoy broad-reaching low-growing groundcover Sumacs like Autumn Amber and Gro-Low Sumac!

For a lacy and vibrant chartreuse foliage option, plus fall color, try the First Editions® Tiger Eyes® Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac!

The Sumac is your go-to for low-maintenance native landscaping!

  • Magnificent as Groundcover in Wide Open Areas
  • Controls Erosion & Water Runoff on Slopes
  • En Masse Naturalizing Thickets
  • Tolerates Thin Poor Soil & Drought Once Established
  • Trim Into Tree-Form Multi-Trunked Specimens
  • Wildlife, Bird & Pollinator Friendly Shrubs
  • Handles Pollution & Urban Environments With Ease
  • Cold Hardy Hedges

Caring For Sumac Shrubs

Sumacs are hardy, tough plants that are easy to grow and have few pests to contend with. Sumacs preferred growing conditions are full sun, while other Sumac varieties handle partial shade. But all of them do best in well-drained soil and will even thrive in poor, rocky soil.

caring for sumac

Sumacs are tolerant of slightly acid soil conditions and soil textures ranging from coarse to fine, preferring anything well-drained. Easy-to-care-for, tough-as-nails, and drought-tolerant once established, Sumac are very low-maintenance!

Prune Sumac in late winter or very early spring for shape and size if needed. If you'd like, you can rejuvenate these shrubs by cutting them back to the ground when dormant in the winter, however, this is not necessary to maintain a healthy stand of shrubs. You can also try renewal pruning by removing a third of the oldest growth every 3-5 years. Mow or trim back suckers if they are not desired each year.

Stunning Sumac Shrubs!

Wildlife and songbird-friendly, fiery fall color, showy flowers and fruit, plus gorgeous tropical foliage, the Sumac Shrub is hopefully going to be your new favorite native landscaping shrub! Order Sumac shrubs for your next landscaping project from NatureHills.com today!

Nature Hills sells healthy, high-quality Sumac plants and we know you'll be very satisfied with these tough-as-nails shrubs!

Happy Planting!

sumac shrub shop

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