12 North American Sumac Trees and Shrubs

Sumacs include about 35 flowering woody North American species in the Rhus genus within the Anacardiaceae family, which also includes cashews, mangos, and pistachios. There are dozens of other sumac species native to Europe, Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, a few of which are used as landscape plants in the U.S. Sumacs are generally shrubs or small trees. Most have compound pinnate leaves (with leaflets arranged around a central stem), but some have simple leaves or trifoliate (three leaflets) leaves. Sumac species include both evergreen and deciduous types, and they generally spread by suckering, which allows them to quickly form small thickets but can also make the plants overly aggressive in some circumstances. Sumacs are often planted for the bright fruits (drupes) that are a favorite food of birds, and for the autumn color, which is usually a bright yellow, orange, or red.

Warning

Although they are now separated out into their own genus (Toxicodendron), several plant species known commonly as poison ivy, poison sumac, and poison oak, were once classified in the Rhus genus, and a sizable number of landscape sumacs contain the same toxin (urushiol) that can cause serious skin and lung irritation in sensitive individuals. Use care when handling sumac or when pruning or disposing of it.

  • 01 of 12

    Elm-Leaved Sumac (Rhus coriaria)

    Close up of sumac blossoms

    Bob Gibbons / Getty Images

    Also known as Tanner's sumac or Sicilian sumac, this species has a number of historical practical uses. The dried fruits are used in spices, the leaves and bark have been used in the leather tanning process, and various dyes can be made from different parts of the plant. This plant is grown principally because of the edible fruit, but its brilliant red autumn foliage and fruit clusters make it an attractive landscape specimen. Like other sumacs, it readily spreads through suckering. Both male and female plants produce flowers and fruit.

    • Native Area: Southern Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Height: Up to 10 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 02 of 12

    Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens)

    Evergreen Sumac

    Homer Edward Price / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    This plant, also known as tobacco sumac, has glossy evergreen foliage that is pink-tinged in the early spring, passing through light-green in summer, and becoming maroon after frost. Greenish or white flowers grow in 1- to 2-inch long clusters, leading to fruit that matures to red in mid-September. Evergreen sumac can be used to create a hedge or screen, or it can be pruned to favor a single leader to form a straight trunk and tree-like shape. Only female plants produce flowers and berries. This shrub is fast-growing, drought-tolerant, and it is mostly resistant to insects and diseases.

    • Native Area: Mexico, Southwest U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Height: Up to 12 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 03 of 12

    Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)

    Fragrant Sumac

    Matt Lavin / Flickr / CC By 2.0

    Fragrant sumac is a dense, low shrub that readily spreads by suckers to form thickets. It has trifoliate (with three leaflets), medium-green leaves that turn orange, red, and purple in autumn. The leaves and twigs are fragrant when crushed or damaged, a feature that lends the plant its common name. It is sometimes known as sweet-scented sumac. An individual plant may produce male flowers as well as female flowers, or it may be limited to one or the other. Female plants produce clusters of red berries that are attractive to wildlife. This plant is most often used to stabilize banks or hills, to cover areas that have poor soil, or for informal hedges.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Height: 2 to 6 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 04 of 12

    Lemonade Berry Sumac (Rhus integrifolia)

    Close up of Lemonade Berries
    Richard Cummins / Getty Images

    Unlike most sumacs (which have trifoliate or pinnate leaves), lemonade berry sumac has simple leaves, with a waxy, leathery texture. The red berries have a tart flavor and are sometimes used in drinks. They are also very attractive to wildlife. Lemonade berry sumac is very easy to grow and is drought-tolerant. It also has good fire resistance, making it an excellent choice to stabilize hillsides in areas prone to wildfires. It is slow-growing compared to other sumacs, with less likelihood of uncontrolled spreading.

    • Native Area: Baja Mexico and Southern California
    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Height: Up to 10 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
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  • 05 of 12

    Littleleaf Sumac (Rhus microphylla)

    Close up of littleleaf sumac berries

    JerryFriedman / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Little-leaf sumac (also known as desert sumac) is a multi-branched, deciduous shrub. It has small pinnate leaves with small, leathery leaflets. It blooms with white flowers that appear before the leaves, and it has orange-red berries. The autumn foliage color is a muted purple or rose color. The plant makes an attractive specimen or hedge plant, and wildlife is drawn to it. Like other sumacs, it is a valuable plant for protecting native bee populations.

    • Native Area: Southwest U.S., and northern and central Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 10
    • Height: Up to 15 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 06 of 12

    Michaux's Sumac (Rhus michauxii)

    Dwarf sumac leaves

    Homer Edward Price / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    This small shrub is distinguished from other sumacs by the extreme hairy texture of its branches and its small size. It is often known as dwarf sumac, or false poison sumac, since it resembles poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix). This plant, however, is considered an endangered species in its native range. Like some other sumacs, Michaux's sumac is dioecious—male and female reproductive parts occur on separate plants. The female plants produce white or greenish-yellow flowers followed by red fruit (drupes). This very short shrub is rarely used in landscape applications.

    • Native Area: Southeastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Height: 1 to 3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun; does not adapt well to shady conditions
  • 07 of 12

    Prairie Sumac (Rhus lanceolata)

    Close up of red sumac leaves

    liz west / flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Also known as prairie flameleaf sumac or flameleaf sumac, this is a medium- to large-sized shrub that is sometimes planted as a small landscape specimen for its autumn color and to attract wildlife. The pinnate leaves have 13 to 17 smooth-edged leaflets, and white to greenish flowers lead to dark red fruits much prized by birds. Autumn color is bright red or orange.

    • Native Area: North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 8
    • Height: up to 20 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 08 of 12

    Skunkbush Sumac (Rhus trilobata)

    Curve-billed thrasher with skunkbush berry in beak
    Danita Delimont / Getty Images

    In its pure species form, this species is known as skunkbush, but a number of its variations and cultivars carry more pleasing names, such as fragrant sumac (Rhus trilobata var. pilosissima) and creeping three-Leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata 'Autumn Amber.' Alternate common names for the species form include stink bush and scented sumac. This is another of the sumacs that have trifoliate leaves (three lobes), which emit a strong odor when crushed. In landscaping, it is often used for windbreaks or for erosion control, or for its autumn color (bright yellow to orange-red). In some environments, it may naturalize and become invasive.

    • Native Area: Western North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 2 to 12 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 09 of 12

    Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)

    Rhus Glabra Plant with Red Leaves in Fall
    Maria_Ermolova / Getty Images

    A native to prairie areas and other clearings, smooth sumac is a very common native plant that easily colonized through suckering to create large thickets in any open areas. It is very similar to the more desireable staghorn sumac, but it has smooth rather than velvety bark. Other common regional names include red sumac, scarlet sumac, common sumac, and western sumac. It has large shiny dark-green pinnate leaves, each with 9 to 27 leaflets arranged in a fern-like pattern. It turns a very attractive shade of bright orange or red in the autumn. It is often used to stabilize large slopes or to cover large areas but is rarely planted as a landscape specimen, due to its tendency to spread rampantly.

    • Native Area: Northeastern U.S. to southern Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Height: 2 to 20 feet tall, depending on growing circumstances
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 10 of 12

    Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

    Close up of sumac sumach panicle's bright red color in early autumn
    Ruth Swan / Getty Images

    Rhus typhina is the largest of the North American sumacs, an open, spreading shrub (sometimes a small tree), earning the common name staghorn sumac because of the reddish-brown hairs covering the branches as velvet covers the antlers of deer. It is also sometimes known as velvet sumac. It has large pinnate leaves with 13 to 27 toothed leaflets. It is a dioecious sumac (plants generally have male or female parts, but not both), and the female flowers produce attractive clusters of fruit that turn bright red in autumn, persisting into the winter. In landscaping, this plant is generally planted in areas where it can form small thickets as it suckers, but it can easily spread rampantly if it is not supervised.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 15 to 25 feet tall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 11 of 12

    Sugar Sumac (Rhus ovata)

    Close up of sugar sumac berries

    Joe Decruyenaere / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    This is an evergreen shrub or small tree that has large, simple leaves that are bright green and leathery in texture, and white flower clusters that lead to sticky reddish berries. This is a sumac that is often sheared to keep as an ornamental specimen; or, like other sumacs, it can be allowed to mass in thickets to control banks or cover large areas. It is called sugar sumac (or sugar bush) because the fruit was sometimes used as a sweetener by Native Americans. Other plant parts, however, can create reactions similar to that of poison ivy in people who are sensitive.

    • Native Area: Arizona, Baja California, and Southern California​
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 11
    • Height: 7 to 30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 12 of 12

    Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum)

    Winged sumac plant

    Doug McGrady / Flickr / CC By 2.0 

    Winged sumac—which is also known by a variety of other common names, including dwarf sumac, flameleaf sumac, and shining sumac—is a multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub or small tree that thrives in dry soils in open areas where it often forms large colonies. It is similar to smooth sumac, except the leaves are untoothed. It has large pinnate leaves with 9 to 21 untoothed leaflets that are shiny and dark green. The foliage turns bright red in autumn. It is best used in areas where its tendency to spread and colonize is desired; it is not a good plant in small landscapes.

    • Native Area: Eastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Height: 7 to 30 feets
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Tip

Gardeners and homeowners who seek to help bee populations are well-advised to plant native sumacs, as these plants produce plentiful nectar that help bee populations thrive. In a bee-friendly landscape, a few sumacs can be a great addition, offering shape, texture, and autumn color.