Other names: Stag’s Horn Sumac, Sumach
Plant Family: Anacardiaceae – Sumac family
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is a tree or small shrub which grows between 5 and 15 feet tall. This tree gets its name because the fuzzy tips of its branches look something like a deer’s antlers in velvet. The fuzzy red seeds are used by some to make tea and are a good source of food for birds in early spring/late winter.
Staghorn Sumac is an early successional species, meaning it is one of the first tree species to colonize open fields after they have been abandoned for agriculture, or newly graded roadsides. The small trees quickly spread, mostly by its root system and to a lesser degree by seeds. Sumac can cover entire hillsides with there thin canopies providing some, but not great shelter for wildlife. The trees are not long lived, are shade intolerant, and so are soon replaced by taller trees.
In fall the leaves of Staghorn and Smooth Sumac turn a deep blood red. They are also one of the first to change color and are pleasing to the eye in that regard. There color, and their small size are some of the reasons various varieties of sumac are planted as ornamental. However, their ability to spread via roots makes them hard to manage in small, or large spaces.
Native Americans used to smoke sumac leaves in a mixture of other herbs when tobacco was not available. I tried it once, but as a non-smoker it was unpleasant. Smoking Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) could easily kill you or leave you with severe irritation of the lungs, so don’t try it! In fact there is an account of it being used in chemical warfare!