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This hardy, compact, deciduous sumac features attention-grabbing flower panicles in mid-summer and showy fruits amidst spectacular orange-red leaves in fall. It normally reaches 6-12 feet in height (it’s also known as dwarf sumac) and grows well in dry, naturalized areas where it’s free to slowly spread and form colonies. Not picky about soils, it will grow in just about any sunny or mostly sunny site as long as the soil isn’t overly wet.  Also known as shining sumac because of its lustrous, green foliage, flameleaf sumac appears to be aflame in autumn with spear-shaped leaflets in shifting hues of orange, red, and purple. It can be easily distinguished from others in its genus by its smooth-edged leaves, distinctive wings on the rachis (it’s also called winged sumac), and watery sap that oozes from broken twigs. This fast-growing, multi-stemmed shrub is both highly ornamental and valuable for wildlife. It hosts over 50 species of caterpillars, is of special value to native bees, and provides winter food for a large variety of upland gamebirds, songbirds, and large and small mammals. As for human foragers, the sour fruits may be snacked upon or made into a drink similar to lemonade. Like other sumacs, flameleaf sumac has high drought and salt tolerance and is generally pest and disease free, so it’s a great addition to city or country landscapes. Because only female plants produce berries, several shrubs should be planted to ensure fruit production.


Native habitats include dry hillsides, rocky slopes, open woods, prairies, sandy woodlands, disturbed sites, and sides of roads. Makes an attractive addition to native or water-wise gardens, dry meadows, and informal landscapes. Effective when massed on slopes for erosion control or in hard-to-cover areas with poor soils. Does well in containers.


Plant Characteristics:

Reaches 6-12’ tall.


Prefers full sun and tolerates part shade.


Grows in average to dry, well-drained clay, loamy, rocky, sandy, alkaline, or acidic soils.


Yellowish-white flower spikes are up to 12” long and appear July-September at the tips of branches. Hairy, dark red, ¼” drupes containing a single smooth seed mature in October and persist through winter.


Alternate, pinnately compound leaves up to 12” long have 7-15 lance-shaped, slightly curved, 3” leaflets with smooth margins. Leaflet surface is glossy green and underside is whitish. The central leaf stem is winged.


Trunk is usually multi-stemmed with thin, light brown or gray bark that develops large, thin scales as it matures. Branches droop with age.


Wildlife value:

Plants in the Rhus genus host 54 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the red-banded hairstreak butterfly (pictured here), which feeds on the fallen leaves, and the smeared dagger moth (caterpillar pictured here). Native bees visit for food and nesting materials. Birds--especially bobwhites, grouses, and pheasants--consume the fruit in winter, and deer browse the foliage.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The berries, which are high in vitamins A and C, may be soaked in water to make a drink similar to lemonade, sometimes called "sumac-ade."


Native Americans mixed the leaves and berries with tobacco and other herbs for smoking. The tannin-rich fruit, bark, and leaves were used to tan hides.

Sumac, Flameleaf, Rhus copallinum

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  • We happily purchase or trade other plant material for locally gathered native seeds. Please provide pictures of the mature plant if possible, ideally fruiting or flowering for best ID.

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