Staghorn tree – amazing in spring, fall and winter

Staghorn sumac leaves burst in color as the sun lights them from below with a backdrop of a dark gray stormy sky.

Staghorn sumac, also called vinegar sumac, is a short tree that grows in a roundish shape.

List of key staghorn tree facts

NameRhus typhina
Family – Anacardiaceae
Type – shrub

Height – 16 feet (5 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary

Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – June to August

It’s found very appealing for its fuzzy red fruit clusters, but sometimes becomes problematic because it spreads very fast.

How to plant staghorn sumac

It doesn’t make any difference whether your staghorn tree is planted in spring or fall.

  • Favor a sunny spot, and don’t worry about the soil type: it’s not an important criteria.
  • Water well after planting.
  • Staghorn sumac grows extremely fast, make sure you’ve given it enough space to spread out.
  • Follow our advice on planting shrubs

Propagation through root cuttings in fall, but you can also just wait for it to send shoots up from the running roots and dig those out.

Pruning staghorn sumac

Before pruning your staghorn sumac, done gloves, because the sap is a bit sticky.

  • Pruning actually isn’t a requirement.
  • If you wish to reshape your sumac or balance the branches somewhat, prune in fall.
  • Eliminate suckers and shoots that pop up out of the soil as soon as you notice them. This will help you control the shrub and keep it from spreading too much.

Staghorn sumac has rather brittle wood that can’t cope very well with windstorms. Don’t even think of hanging a swingset from it.

Learn more about staghorn sumac

Two deep violet red staghorn sumac fruit panicles with a background of green leaves.A very beautiful shrub with a spectacular summer blooming, sumac is also remarkable in fall, when its foliage rolls over to flamboyant hues before falling off.

It is definitely among the most beautiful ornamental shrubs from September to December.

This easy to care for shrub will produce the nicest impact as a standalone, because as years go by it tends to grow wide instead of tall.

Take note, though, that staghorn sumac can turn out to be rather invasive, both because its seeds sprout easily and because underground roots send up shoots.

Staghorn sumac fruits

Staghorn sumac fruits can be used to prepare lemonade, all that has to be done is to prepare a decoction from the fruits.

The tangy, acidic taste gave the tree its other common name: the vinegar tree. Its fruits contain high doses of vitamin C and tannin compounds.

Is staghorn sumac poisonous?

While very common, staghorn sumac isn’t dangerous to most people. Other species that share common ancestors, like poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix, formerly Rhus vernix) and the Chinese lacquer tree (Toxicodendron vernicifluum, formerly Rhus vernicifera) are very poisonous for most humans and pets. For those two the entire plant is poisonous, as the sap is what contains the toxic compounds.

However, especially after repeated contact,  some people turn out to be vulnerable to staghorn sumac’s sap.

Too much exposure to that white, milky sap called latex might trigger an allergic reaction.

This usually isn’t anything more than dermatosis, rashes or swelling on the hands and forearms, but in some cases it may lead to severe anaphylactic shock, where the blood pressure drops to the point of losing consciousness and swelling of tissues in the throat and mouth area can lead to choking.

Smart tip about staghorn sumac

Planting this unique tree in your garden will bring lots of color to your garden!

Staghorn sumac leaves will gradually shift from spring green to carmine red, with shades of  daffodil yellow and lush orange.

Read also on the topic of shrubs:

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden under © CC0 1.0 (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Staghorn tree fruits shared by _Alicja_
Staghorn tree leaves shared by mbc-2016
Staghorn sumac in storm shared by marionberaudias