Staghorn sumac

Staghorn sumac outside of Kroon Hall, home to the Yale School of the Environment
Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
The staghorn sumac is a large, deciduous tree native to the eastern half of North America and produces edible fruit known as "sumac berries." The name of the tree derives from the resemblance of its branches to the antlers of a stag, both in structure and texture. The flowers of a staghorn sumac tree form distinctive, upward-pointing, cone-like clusters, and the lemon-like berries are consumed by birds and humans alike.
Cecily Gao, Lorenzo Arvanitis
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Open vase
Date of tree entry: 
5.90 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.20 m

The bark of the staghorn sumac is dark brownish-grey. Typically, the texture of the bark can be used to estimate the tree's relative age—a hairy bark is indicative of a young tree whereas a more mature tree has a smoother bark accompanied by the formation of lenticels. Older trees, like the one in the image, generally have scaly bark and lenticels.
Twigs & branches
The branches have a rough and velvety texture, reminiscent of stag horns, from which the tree gets its name. The branches are brown and are arranged in a forking pattern like antlers.
The staghorn sumac has pinnately compound leaves in groups of 9 to 31, with each mature leaflets ranging from 12 to 24 inches long. The leaflets possess a hairy axis and are linearly shaped. The leaves are dark green on the sun-facing side and a lighter green on the underside in the spring/summer and turn a bright orangish-red in the fall.
Reproductive Structures
The Staghorn Sumac is dioecious, meaning that it develops male and female flowers on separate plants. Both male and female flowers are cone-shaped, but they differ in their color and length of blooming. Male flowers bloom between May and June, while female flowers last much longer, from June to September. Male flowers are typically small, greenish-white or yellow and form dense terminal panicles. Female flowers are red, becoming darker in color as they mature. Male and female plants do not seem to grow in close proximity to each other. The flowers depend on bees for pollination.
The fruits are round, reddish, and berrylike, and are typically coated in small hairs. The hairiness of the fruits, in addition to that of the branches, is another reason that the staghorn sumac is named as such. The individual fruits aggregate in upright, cone-shaped clusters. The fruits are composed of a waxy outer layer, a fleshy middle layer, and the seeds at the core.
  • Staghorn Sumac in February
  • Staghorn Sumac in April
Natural range of distribution: 
The Staghorn Sumac is an open land plant found on drier soils, including prairies, grasslands, savannas, and woodlands. It can grow in a wide range of conditions and habitats but is typically found in dry and poor soil where other plants cannot survive as easily. It is primarily found in southeastern Canada and the Northeastern United States, from Georgia all the way up to Maine. Species have also been noted in South Dakota, Kansas, and the midwestern states. It is cultivated throughout the world in temperate climates, including parts of Europe, Argentina, and China.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The name *Rhus* *typhina* traces its origin to Carl Linnaeus and Ericus Torner, who, in the eighteenth century, wrote the following description of the plant: “Ramis hirtis uti typhi cervini.” This translates to “the branches are rough like antlers in velvet.” This is how the Staghorn Sumac received its name. Because the Staghorn Sumac is endemic to Eastern Canada and the United States, Native American tribes in the area are thought to have smoked the dried sumac fruit. They also used the fruit, which is deep red in color, as a natural dye. Other species of the sumac family, of which there are about 250, have been used throughout history as medicines. Pliny the Elder, a naturalist in the first century, noted the use of the Syrian Sumac fruit as “a necessary ingredient in various medicaments.” He believed it to have been able to relieve fevers. The Staghorn Sumac is widely used by wildlife and humans. Northern cardinals, evening grosbeaks, and other birds eat the berries in the winter and disperse the seeds. Rabbits, deer, and moose browse on the foliage. Bees, flies, and insects obtain nectar from the plant and help pollinate the pistillate flowers. Humans use the sumac berries — which have a tart, lemon taste — to create a refreshing drink. Some people say that the berries can be used as an ailment for sore throats. Similarly, the roots can be made into teas that ostensibly stop bleeding. Sumac stems can be woven into baskets, while the leaves and bark can be used for tanning leather.

The sumac staghorn is pollinated in the spring by various insect pollinators (e.g., bees, wasps, flies, etc.) and blooms between June and July. The sumac berries fully mature between August and September. Throughout winter, the fruits remain on the tree and serve as a food source for birds. As a deciduous tree, the staghorn sumac has green leaves in the spring/summer and bright red and orange leaves in the autumn.
Shrub Canopy Area: