When considering adding a touch of fall color to your landscape, don’t forget the sumacs. Belonging to the family Anacardiaceae, some of their notable relatives include cashew, pistachio, mango, smokebush, and even poison ivy and poison sumac. The genus Rhus, consists of around 35 species and grows in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in East Asia, Africa, and North America.
In the Middle-East, the fruits are often used in spices and flavorings and were used extensively in medieval medicine. In North America, the drupes of R. glabra (smooth sumac) and R. typhina (staghorn sumac) were soaked in water to make a drink called “Indian lemonade”. Native Americans also added the leaves and drupes to tobacco for smoking.
There are three natives from the genus that I particularly like, R. typhina, R. copallina, and R. aromatica.
The species R. typhina is a large colonizing shrub, somewhat leggy and reaches 10 -15 ft. in height. A cultivar of interest is ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes®, known for its striking bronze-yellow new growth and turning orange-red in the fall. Not as rampant as the species, it will still sucker and reach 5-7 ft.
R. copallina (winged sumac), known as Flameleaf or Shining Sumac is more compact, becoming irregular as it ages. ‘Creel’s Quintet’ is a more restrained cultivar reaching 8 ft. and noted for its 5 leaflets instead of the usual 15-21. The thick, glossy, green leaves live up to the name shining sumac and make it a real standout in the landscape. The cream colored flowers contrast nicely with the foliage. In the fall, the shiny maroon leaves are exceptional.
If you’re looking for something a bit smaller, try R. aromatica ‘Gro-Low’. An excellent spreading ground cover, ‘Gro-Low’ matures at around 2-3 ft. Its trifoliate leaf retains good green color throughout the summer and turns to a desirable orange-red in the fall. When crushed, the leaves exude a delightful citrus aroma.
The text of this alert are from Joe Cochran, curator of the Secrest Arboretum at OSU's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Images are from Joe Cochran and Jim Chatfield.