poetry and prose about place

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina L.)

with 11 comments

One of the berry bushes common in our area is Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina L.).  Its leaves and berries turn brilliant red in autumn, and its berries are displayed in distinctive red ‘horns’.

Staghorn Sumac  is a small tree or shrub found at forest edges and in wastelands.   The shrub has a flat crown and an umbrella-like canopy. It has pinnately compound leaves and toothed leaflets.

Staghorn Sumac is a ‘pioneer’ species, often one of the first plants to invade an area after the soil is disturbed.  Although it reproduces by seed, it also grows from its vigorous underground root system, and forms dense colonies with the oldest trees at the centre.  In this way, it causes dense shade to out-compete other plants.

The flowers of Staghorn Sumac are greenish-yellow and occur in spiked panicles from May to July.  The berries are velvety, hairy red drupes, and ripen in June to September, often persisting through winter.  The berries are held in dense clusters or spikes at the ends of tree branches.

Staghorn Sumac is also called Velvet Sumac, or Vinegar-tree, and Vinaigrier in Quebec.

The common name of Staghorn sumac is derived from the velvet feel of its bark, reminiscent of the texture of deer antlers.  The word sumac comes from the words for red in Latin (sumach) and Arabic (summāq).  The specific name ‘typhina’ means ‘like Typha’ (cat-tail), a reference to its velvety branches.

The Staghorn Sumac provides food for birds including Evening Grosbeaks and Mourning Doves, and its twigs are eaten by White-tailed Deer.

It has many human uses, including for medicine, decoration, tanning and dyes.  Staghorn Sumac berries are used to make a lemon-flavored ‘sumac-ade’ or ‘rhus juice’.  Remember, before you consume any wild plant, be certain of your identification.


Sumac lemonade

Pick and clean the berries (removing them from the stem)

Soak berries in cool water

Rub the berries to extract the juice


Add sugar to taste



Staghorn Sumac

                   Rhus typhina L.


from a single stem

and subterranean creep

a crowd of sumac


umbrellas unfurl

roof by roof

shield the hillside

from ministrations of sky


shadowed ways beneath

to shelter and imitate

a gathering of deer

with velvet antlers lift


an occidental village

red spires like minarets

insist on sky



1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
©  Jane Tims  2012

11 Responses

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  1. I left my staghorn at my other house, where it was growing prolifically EVERYWHERE. But I loved the showy brilliance of the leaves in autumn before winter tumbled them to the ground…and I never could resist stroking the velvet branches when I passed by. A flock of winter robins would clean the berries out in an afternoon.


    Deborah Carr

    May 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    • Hi. I brought our Staghorn Sumac(s) from a local gravel pit. They have taken over the end of the driveway and look a bit tropical when in full leaf. The deer chew them down to almost nothing each year, but they eventually rebound. Jane


      jane tims

      May 16, 2012 at 7:26 am

  2. Beautiful choices of words and phrases in your poem. I am learning lots about our familiar plant life from your postings. I hope you’re going to include the dreaded cow’s parsley at some point, and let your readers know how to get rid of it! 🙂


    Jane Fritz

    May 6, 2012 at 8:15 am

    • Hi. I’m glad you like the poem. There are a few invasive plants in New Brunswick… perhaps I’ll do a post on a few of them later in summer. Good suggestion. Jane


      jane tims

      May 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm

  3. The Staghorn Sumac is a beautifc plant. I’ve often seen it in hedgerows and wastelands–but I’ve also seen it planted as an ornamental bush in suburban yards. If I remember I’ll have to make some sumac tea next fall. It sounds like something I’d like.



    May 5, 2012 at 11:20 pm

  4. I think I will try some Sumac Lemonade! Thanks Jane



    May 5, 2012 at 12:09 am

    • Hi Jim. It will be a while before the new crop of berries is available. Let me know what you think! Jane


      jane tims

      May 5, 2012 at 6:40 am

      • Jane would it be worth collecting and trying to make lemonade. or is it really to late?? I am still finding a few wild blue berries to nibble on!



        September 16, 2013 at 11:02 pm

  5. red spires like minarets

    great line Jane!



    May 4, 2012 at 8:24 am

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