Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac)

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Rhus typhina - Staghorn Sumac, Velvet Sumac, Sumac Vinaigrier (Anacardiaceae)

Description: Either a small tree or a woody shrub. Height ranges from about 4’-15’, trunk diameter 2”-4”(Hilty, 2005). Reddish, hairy twigs and leaf stalks. Large, dark green, toothed leaves 12”-24” in length with hairy midveins and lateral veins (Petrides, 1988).

Habitat and Range: Most sumacs tend to grow in the pantropical area, with the staghorn sumac being one of the few representative plants in temperate North America (Gallant et al, 1998). Staghorns may grow throughout the Northern United States and Canada, from eastern Great Lakes to Nova Scotia, Northern Illinois (Hilty, 2005) and throughout the Northeast/New England area (Petrides, 1988). Often act as old field colonizers. Thrive in areas found uninhabitable by most other plants such as areas along roadsides, burned-over land, and in the dry, rocky soil alongside ditch banks. Grows either singly or in large colonies (Gallant et al, 1998). Has aversion to shady areas and dense canopy (Fischer, 1997).

Resource Acquisition: Displays clonal root growth (Werner and Harbeck, 1982). Sumac roots can spread more than 16 meters around the plant and form an extensive underground root network right near the ground’s surface (Rowe and Blazich, 2005). Rhizome allows for quick widespread growth (Rowe and Blazich, 2005).

Reproduction: Dioecious angiosperm with single-sex genets. They reproduce both sexually and asexually. Sexually, the pistillate flower produce seeds. Asexually, they spread through rhizomatous growth (Gallant et al, 1998). The small, yellow- green flowers on both sexual stands form in dense, thyrsoid infloresences. The males flower in early summer two weeks prior to the flowering of the female plants. Plants are insect pollinated, mainly by eusocial bees. Male and female flowers initially form essentially the same with the gynoecium aborting in the males and the stamen and anther aborting in the females. The dioeciousness prevents self-pollination, so reproduction is only asexual or through cross-pollination (Gallant et al, 1998).

Dispersal: Fruits are small, crimson-red berry-like drupes. They each contain a single seed and contain no endosperm. They grow in dense clusters and ripen in the fall, but stay on the plant through the winter (Rowe and Blazich, 2005). Fruits are commonly eaten by bluebirds in early spring, immediately after their arrival (Pinkowski, 1977). Starling feed on the sumac fruits during December, eating as many wild fruits as they can (Lindsey, 1939). Fruits are eaten by over 30 species of birds, such as pheasants, mourning dove, grouse and bobwhite (Petrides, 1988), rodents and occasionally other mammals (Rowe and Blazich, 2005).

Defenses and Natural Enemies: Hairs on the twigs and leaves act as defenses from herbivory (Petrides, 1988). They have been devastated by bark beetle infestation.10 The twigs and foliage are eaten by deer (Odocoileus spp.), moose (Alces americana), and mountain sheep (Ovis spp.) (Rowe and Blazich, 2005). Carpenter Bees (Ceratina spp) create tunnels in pith though cause little damage. Currant Flea Beetle (Blepharida rhois) and Four-Lined Plant Bug (Poecilocapsus lineatus) feed on Sumac as larvae and adults. Other folivores include many moth caterpillars such as Ruddy Dagger Moth (Acronicta rubricoma), Showy Emerald (Dichorda iridariaI), Dark Marathyssa( Marathyssa inficita), and Saddled Prominent (Heterocampa guttivitta) (Hilty, 2005).

Reference individual in the Northwoods: Two trees by the Northwoods parking lot. Surrounded by open area of low brush including lots of goldenrod. Trees approximately 12’-15’ tall.

Related Plants (congeners) in Northwoods: None.


  • Bryson GM and Barker AV (2002) Sodium Accumulation in Soils and Plants along Massachusetts Roadsides. Commun. Soil Sci. Plant Anal. 33: 67-78
  • Fischer T (1997) Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac. Horticulture 94: 82-83
  • Foster BL and Gross KL (1999) Temporal and Spatial Patterns of Woody Plant Establishment in Michigan Old Fields. American Midland Naturalist 142: 229-244
  • Gallant JB, Kemp JR, and Lacroix CR (1998) Floral Development of Dioecious Staghorn Sumac, Rhus Hirta (Anacardiaceae). International Journal of Plant Sciences 159: 539-549
  • Hilty J. Savanna Wildflowers.

http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/savanna/plants/stag_sumac.htm#moth_table Viewed September 14, 2005.

  • Petrides GA (1988) Peterson Field Guide: Eastern Trees. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. Pp 104-5.
  • Lindsey AA (1939) Food of the Startling in Central New York State. The Wilson Bulletin 51:176-182
  • Pinkowski BC (1977) Foraging Behavior of the Eastern Bluebird. The Wilson Bulletin 89: 404-414
  • Werner PA and Harbeck AL (1982) The Pattern of Tree Seedling Establishment Relative to Staghorn Sumac Cover in Michigan Old Fields. American Midland Naturalist 108: 124-132
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