The Staghorn sumac, or Rhus typhina, is a native of North America and a member of the Cashew family (Anacardiaceae). This vigourous, small tree has a native range from southeastern Canada down to the southern United States, which covers a great deal of territory of highly variable temperatures, soil types and precipitation, all of which indicates a broad adaptability.

A Staghorn sumac tree is one of the best choices for the urban landscape. It thrives in the harshest environments, including car parks and roadside plantings. And being only 20 by 20 feet tall, it fits comfortably beneath power lines as well as today's smaller gardens. But the real advantage to this tree is it's colour. In spring, small flowers lead to summer's brilliant fruit cones. The foliage, alternate, compound, with 9–31 serrated leaflets, is a rich, handsome green all summer and contrasts nicely with the rust colored stems. But it is autumn when the quiet handsomeness changes to spectacular, show-stopping colour. The compound leaves turn every shade of red, gold, purple, orange and yellow. And the Staghorn sumac colors early and persists for weeks. And the leaves, once fallen, reveal the deep red fruit cones held prominently at branch-tip, often through the entire winter and into spring.

Staghorn sumac is fast growing and an excellent choice for new plots on disturbed soil. But, as with many fast-growing plants, it also spreads aggressively, either by seeds or rhizomes, and form thickets in short order. But with regular mowing this spread can be kept in check. Finally, its other great asset is its form. It's broad without being ungainly, vase shaped and elegant and more than worthy of being a courtyard centerpiece.

Staghorn sumac can grow in part shade or full sun, on virtually any kind of soil: acid, alkaline; dry or damp (not wet); clay, sand or loam. This great adaptability has made it successful in Canada, the US and UK as well as temperate Australia and New Zealand. It may not always be available in the discount nurseries but can usually be found at the better tree nurseries. One particularly striking cultivar is Laciniata Staghorn sumac, or Rhus typhina 'Laciniata' with beautifully filigreed foliage.


Staghorn sumac

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