Rhus typhina syn. R. hirta (staghorn sumac or stag's horn sumach) is a species of flowering plant in the family Anacardiaceae, native to eastern North America. It is primarily found in Southeastern Canada, the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Appalachian Mountains, but is widely cultivated as an ornamental throughout the temperate world.
The specific epithet typhina is explained in Linnaeus's and Ericus Torner's description of the plant with the phrase "Ramis hirtis uti typhi cervini" meaning "the branches are rough like antlers in velvet".
Rhus typhina is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5 m (16 ft) tall by 6 m (20 ft) broad. It has alternate, pinnately compound leaves 25–55 cm (10–22 in) long, each with 9–31 serrate leaflets 6–11 cm long. The leaf petioles and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. The velvety texture and the forking pattern of the branches, reminiscent of antlers, have led to the common name "stag's horn sumach".
Staghorn sumac is dioecious, and large clumps can form with either male or female plants. The fruit is one of the most identifiable characteristics, forming dense clusters of small red drupes at the terminal end of the branches; the clusters are conic, 10–20 cm (4–8 in) long and 4–6 cm (2–2 in) broad at the base. The plant flowers from May to July and fruit ripens from June to September. The foliage turns to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow in autumn (fall). The fruit has been known to last through winter and into spring.
Staghorn sumac is not closely related to poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), despite the common name.
In late summer it sometimes forms galls on the underside of leaves, caused by the sumac leaf gall aphid, Melaphis rhois. The galls are not harmful to the tree.
Staghorn sumac is a highly ornamental plant which provides interest throughout the year, though its vigorous, suckering habit makes it unsuitable for smaller gardens. It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in dry and poor soil on which other plants cannot survive. Some landscapers remove all but the top branches to create a "crown" effect in order to resemble a small palm tree. Numerous cultivars have been developed for garden use, of which 'Dissecta' syn. 'Laciniata' (cutleaf staghorn sumac) has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit, is also grown in gardens as an ornamental plant.
The Staghorn Sumac was introduced to Europe in the 17th century and is popular as a garden plant. In both French and German, the common name of the species (Sumac vinaigrier, Essigbaum) means "vinegar tree".
Some beekeepers use dried sumac bobs as a source of fuel for their smokers.
The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade. The leaves and berries of staghorn sumac have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes. This practice continues to a small degree to this day.
All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness. Harvest the leaves in the summer and the bark all year round.
- United States Geological Survey: "Rhus typhina Range Map" accessed 2008-03-02
- Linnaeus et al. (1756) Centuria II plantarum, p. 1 4
- Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. Ditomaso, Weeds of The Northeast, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), pp. 326–327.
- RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964.
- Sullivan, Janet. 1994. Rhus typhina. In: Fire Effects Information System (Online). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.
- USDA Forest Service: Woody Plant Seed Manual: Rhus.
- Newgarden, Robert (December 1, 1997). "Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac—A Sophisticated Cultivar". Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Retrieved 2011-09-12.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Rhus typhina 'Dissecta'". Retrieved 3 July 2013.
- Lee Allen Peterson, Edible Wild Plants, (New York City: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977), p. 186.
- Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People: The People of the White Pines: Smoking and Pipes
- Jenny Dean, Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes, (New York City: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1999), p. 123.
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