Staghorn Sumac

(Rhus typhina)

Other Names:
None known


Anacardiaceae - The Cashew or Sumac Family

Growth Type:
A deciduous perennial shrub or small tree

Growing to approximately 16 ft tall and 20 ft wide

It has alternate, pinnately compound leaves 10 – 22 in long. Each compound leaf has from 9 - 31 serrate leaflets each about 2 - 4 in 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 sumac".


Flower Season:
May to July

Flower Appearance:
Conelike flower heads, consisting of thousands of tiny greenish or greenish-yellow flowers, grow at the tops of the branches.

The fruit is one of the most identifiable characteristics, forming dense clusters of small red drupes at the tips of the branches. Individual drupes are covered in velvety hairs, and are dry and unpalatable. Each fruit cluster is conical in shape and is approximately 4 – 8 in long and 2 – 3 in wide at the base, and tapering to a point. The fruit has been known to last through winter and into spring.

Miscellaneous characteristics:
This plant grows in large dense clusters of either male or female plants, spreading by either seed or rhizome. It grows aggressively, forming large groves which have the oldest plants in the center, with the plants becoming younger as you move outward. The plant flowers in late spring, and the fruit begins to ripen in early summer through early autumn. In the Autumn, the foliage turns brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Staghorn sumac is not closely related to Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).

Dry forest edges, roadsides, and waste areas

Parts Used:
Leaves, berries, bark, root

Wild Food Uses:
A wonderfully delicious "pink lemonade" can be made from the berries. Gather the torch shaped fruit clusters after they have ripened in early autumn. Make sure to gather the berries prior to the heavy rains of late Autumn wash out the oxcylic acid which gives the fruit their tart taste. Rub the fruit clusters through your hands to slightly bruise them, and then place them in a large pail or bucket, and then cover the fruit with water. Lightly cover the bucket, and place in the sun for a couple of days. After the fruit has soaked for 2 - 3 days, pick out the fruit clusters, and strain the remaining liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Sweeten the strained liquid to taste with sugar, and enjoy this healthful, delicious, drink. Store the remaining pink lemonade in the refrigerator. You can make a quick drink by bruising the fruit, and soaking for 15 minutes in cold water. I find this to be a bit weak. I suggest the longer soaking method, as your patience will be rewarded.

The following text is meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. Always consult with a physician or other qualified medical care provider concerning the diagnosis and treatment of any illness or injury.

Medicinal Uses:
The leaves can be dried and smoked as a treatment for asthma. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it works quite well to alleviate the thick mucus associated with asthma and colds. A drink made from the berries has been known to quite persistent coughs. After boiling the fruit in a sugar simple syrup for 10 minutes, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or fine sieve to make a wonderfully effective cough syrup. Leaf tea to treat asthma, colds, and upper respiratory disorders. Bark tea to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and fevers. Root tea emetic, diuretic. Alcohol extracts, or tinctures, of the bark have been shown to be highly effective antiseptic.

Medicinal Actions:
Antidiarrheal, Antiseptic, Antitussive, Astringent, Diuretic, Emetic, Tonic

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