12 Sumac Tree Varieties Every Gardener Should Consider

Sumac tree varieties offer many benefits and aesthetic appeal, making them valuable additions to any landscape, especially because of their diversity, hardiness, and low maintenance needs. This article highlights some of the best sumac tree types to suit various needs and growing conditions and discusses the characteristics, care requirements, and landscape value of different sumac species.

Vivid Sumac trees PlantAmerica

Our goal is to inspire you to choose the perfect sumac variety for your garden, one that will thrive with minimal effort while providing visual interest year-round. Let’s explore the wonderful, yet often underused, world of sumac trees and discover which variety is perfect for you!

Sumac Tree Types and Varieties for Your Landscape Revival

1. Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn Sumac Resembling Antlers PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Spring growth, Flowers in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Oval leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Aphids, Leaf miners

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) earns its name from the branching pattern of the mature tree, with upright vertical stems and arching lateral branches resembling antlers. The branching pattern produces an architectural structure that gives the tree an open, vase-shaped form.

This sumac tree is primarily valued for its brilliant display of fall color when the leaves transform into vibrant shades of crimson and orange. The Staghorn sumac can grow quite tall, reaching heights over 20 feet with branches spreading nearly as wide. This Sumac is well suited for hot, dry conditions, adapting well to poor and compacted soils once established.

To control its growth, the Staghorn sumac requires little care beyond the occasional pruning of dead or damaged wood. This low-maintenance plant is suitable for larger landscape spaces where its sculptural shape and natural structure can be fully appreciated.

The grace and simplicity of the Staghorn sumac tree’s form and the vibrant colors it produces in autumn make it an attractive choice for locations that receive plenty of sun and do not require an overly high-maintenance plant.

The adaptability and resilience of Staghorn Sumac allow it to thrive with minimal human intervention, making it appropriate for landscapes where seasonal interest and low upkeep are priorities.

2. Smooth Sumac

Smooth Sumac Tree PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in late spring, Fruit ripens in the fall
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Ovate leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Dry, Acidic soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) grows more slowly than staghorn sumac, forming a shrub rather than a small tree. The smooth sumac tree typically reaches 6 to 12 feet tall and wide at maturity. Its leathery leaves remain deep green throughout the summer before transitioning to vivid shades of orange and red in autumn.

Rhus glabra is prized for its showy fruit clusters, which persist into winter, providing bird food and cover. The hairy, cone-shaped fruit heads emerge reddish then mature to brown. Smooth Sumac prefers full sun and well drained soil. It is characterized by upright, branching stems with smooth bark that develops shallow furrows with age.

The smooth foliage and compact size make smooth sumac ideal for smaller landscape plantings as a feature, border, or screen plant. It thrives in poor soil and withstands hot, dry conditions once established, requiring little care beyond pruning minor dead or damaged wood in springtime.

3. Sugar Sumac

Sugar Sumac Tiny Flowers PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in spring, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Oblong leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Sugar sumac (Rhus ovata) gets its name from the sweet, succulent fruit that remains on the branches throughout winter. The dark red to purple fruit clusters resemble grapes and have a subtle lemony flavor if eaten when ripe. The sugar sumac’s large size and fast growth rate make it an appealing choice for screening, hedging, or as a specimen plant in the landscape.

Rhus ovata reaches 20 to 30 feet tall and almost as wide at maturity. Its leaves turn shades of bright yellow in autumn, providing a splash of color before falling to the ground. The fruit nourishes birds throughout the colder months, especially during scarcity. Pruning is not generally needed except to control size or remove damaged stems occasionally.

Sugar sumac prefers full sun and well drained soil, though it can tolerate some drought once established. It features multiple sturdy trunks supporting an open crown of crooked branches. The bark becomes deeply fissured with age.

The winter interest, large stature, tolerance of marginal soils, low maintenance requirements, and wildlife benefits make sugar sumac a valuable landscape plant for filling large spaces or providing screening and naturalizing in slopes or groupings.

4. Dwarf Sumac

Dwarf Sumac Glossy Leaves PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Elliptic leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Dwarf sumac (Rhus copallina) forms a low, spreading mound of foliage rarely exceeding three to four feet in height and about the same width at maturity. This compact sumac plant is valued for its ability to thrive in dry soil conditions, its dense, mounded habit, and its excellent display of foliage color in autumn.

During fall, the leaves transform into bright hues of yellow to crimson, providing several weeks of visual interest before dropping to expose the branching stems, which provide winter interest. Dwarf Sumac adapts well to tight spaces in the landscape and is well suited for rock gardens, edging along borders, and as a ground cover in naturalized landscapes.

The foliage emerges in springtime with bronzy tones before maturing to dark green in summer. Dwarf sumac thrives when grown in full sun and dry soil conditions, making it a good choice for challenging locations with sparse or infertile ground. Once established, this Sumac requires little care beyond occasional pruning to remove dead stems.

The low, mounded form and minimal demands of dwarf Sumac make it an ideal choice for use as a foliage accent plant or as a groundcover. The ability of dwarf Sumac to survive in stressful environmental conditions contributes to its landscape versatility for hot, sunny exposures with poor drainage where other plants may struggle.

5. Evergreen Sumac

Evergreen Sumac PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Elliptic leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) is prized for its fast growth rate, tolerance of urban conditions, and superb fall color. The evergreen sumac tree forms a rounded canopy, 20 to 25 feet tall, with arching branches that give it an open, vase-shaped silhouette. Rhus virens thrives in poor, dry soils — once established, Sumac requires little care beyond occasional pruning to remove dead wood and control size.

The evergreen sumac plants produce new foliage in spring that emerges bronze before maturing to a deep green color in summer. As autumn approaches, the leaves transform into brilliant shades of gold, orange, and scarlet that provide magnificent seasonal interest.

Ideal for enhancing large landscapes, evergreen sumac provides shifting natural beauty throughout the year with its changing leaves. The branches have an architectural structure that creates a sculptural silhouette, especially when the leaves fall off in winter, leaving the complex framework of limbs and twigs.

The evergreen sumac’s ability to tolerate harsh growing conditions, along with its low maintenance needs and sizable stature, makes it an excellent choice for filling spacious grounds. Once established in a location with full sunlight, the plant can handle hot and dry exposures with poor and infertile soils.

The evergreen sumac is an incredibly resilient species that requires minimal pruning, fertilizing, or watering. Its spreading canopy of foliage in summer and ornamental twigs in winter offer a visual appeal that lasts for several seasons each year.

The natural architectural form created by its branches remains interesting even when the plant is dormant. Given its sizable stature that can reach 12 to 30 feet tall and wide, evergreen sumac is ideal for enhancing the beauty of large properties and expansive landscapes.

6. Flameleaf Sumac

Flameleaf Sumac Plant PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Obovate leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Flameleaf sumac (Rhus copallina Flameleaf) is a cultivar prized for its brilliant foliage color year round. The flame leaf sumac tree leaves emerge bronzy red in spring and mature to dark green in summer, transforming to vibrant orange, scarlet, and crimson hues in fall. Rhus corallum ‘flame leaf’ features tiny bumps along its red leaf stalks and seed heads, adding visual texture year-round.

The requirements for this ornamental plant are similar to other sumac varieties — it thrives in hot, dry conditions with minimal care. Pruning is generally only needed to remove damaged or dead stems occasionally.

At maturity, flame leaf sumac reaches 15 to 20 feet tall and nearly as wide, forming an umbrella-like canopy. The new red growth and coloring on the stems provide winter interest when the leaves have fallen.

The brilliant foliage color throughout the seasons, as well as the textural seed heads and leaf stalks, make flame leaf sumac a showy addition to the landscape. The tree’s compact size, drought tolerance, and low maintenance requirements contribute to its landscape versatility for planting in hot, sunny exposures.

7. Laciniata Sumac

Laciniata Sumac Medium Size PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Deeply lobed leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Laciniata Sumac (Rhus laciniata) features striking cut-leaf foliage that emerges bronze in spring before maturing to a blue-green hue in summer. The laciniata sumac tree leaves deeply cut or lobed leaves that turn vibrant colors in fall, including shades of gold, orange, and scarlet.

The leaves remain on the branches well into winter, providing winter interest. This tree’s long blooming period is from June to October, and its ability to grow in poor soils makes it well-suited for naturalizing on hillsides, along meadows, or as a specimen plant.

This Sumac prefers full sun and well drained soil, though it can tolerate some drought once established. It can reach heights between 10 to 15 feet and nearly as wide at maturity. Pruning is generally unnecessary except to control size. Occasionally remove damaged or dead stems.

The natural shape of this Sumac is upright and rounded. The dramatic cut-leaf foliage and colorful display in autumn make laciniata Sumac an attractive ornamental tree. Its adaptability to harsh growing conditions and low maintenance requirements contribute to its landscape versatility for planting in hot, sunny exposures with poor, dry soil.

8. Lemonade Sumac

Lemonade Sumac Red Berries PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Deeply lobed leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Lemonade sumac produces tart red berries that can be made into a sour lemonade drink with water and sugar. The lemonade sumac plant leaves turn brilliant shades of crimson and orange in fall before dropping to reveal maroon-colored branches for winter interest.

This tree thrives in hot, arid climates and is tolerant of infertile, alkaline soils. Maintaining its compact, rounded shape requires minimal care beyond occasional pruning. This Sumac grows 6 to 10 feet tall and wide at maturity. The small, dark green leaves emerge in springtime and remain on the bush throughout summer.

The lemonade sumac prefers full sun and well drained soil. It has a naturally rounded form with arching, branching stems that create an open structure. The ornamental qualities of this plant, including its vivid fall foliage, colorful winter stems, and ability to thrive in harsh conditions, contribute to its appeal to desert landscapes. Its small stature makes it suitable for small gardens and provides screening, privacy, or a natural accent.

The distinctive red fruits that can be used to make a tangy lemonade drink add novelty and interest. The plant’s low demands in terms of care and maintenance complement its landscape versatility.

9. Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant Sumac Blooms PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Ovate to oblong leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Japanese beetles

Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) is identified by its aromatic gray-green leaves and stems, which emit a mild lemony fragrance when crushed. The fragrant foliage gives this Sumac its common name. Fragrant Sumac produces showy yellow flowers in the summer months.

Following the blooms, clusters of velvety red fruits emerge and persist into winter, providing additional ornamental value and food for birds. This sumac plant grows best when it receives full sun throughout the day, is planted in well drained soil, and requires little additional care beyond pruning to control its shape and size.

Pruning is typically only needed occasionally to maintain the Fragrant Sumac’s natural growth habit. This Sumac is ideal for naturalizing in large landscape designs, especially on slopes and meadows, where its adaptability allows it to thrive.

The Fragrant Sumac’s fragrant foliage, colorful summer flowers, and persistent winter fruit, when coupled with its low maintenance needs and ability to withstand harsh growing conditions, make it a hardy, versatile addition to hot, sunny exposures where seasonal ornamental interest is desired but high levels of intervention are not practical. The Fragrant Sumac’s adaptive traits allow it to provide natural beauty that needs little human involvement after the initial planting.

10. Fernleaf Sumac

Colourful Fernleaf Sumac PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Linear to lance leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Leafhoppers

Fernleaf sumac is a dwarf cultivar prized for its delicate fern-like foliage. The fern sumac plant leaves emerge bronzy in spring before maturing to a blue-green hue in summer. In autumn, the foliage transforms into brilliant shades of scarlet and crimson.

Fernleaf sumac slowly spreads to form a dense, rounded mound approximately three to four feet tall and wide at maturity. The mounded shape and ability to thrive in poor soil make this sumac ideal for rocky slopes, borders, beds, and containers. 

Minimal pruning is typically needed except to control size and remove damaged or dead stems. This dwarf Sumac prefers full sun and well drained soil. It has an upright branching habit that produces delicately cut, fern-like foliage.

The ornamental qualities of fern leaf sumac, including the colorful foliage transformation in fall and the dense, mounded shape, contribute to its value as a low-growing, ornamental groundcover. Its drought tolerance and adaptability to harsh environments make it suitable for hot, dry exposures.

This sumac cultivar’s low maintenance needs and versatility in landscape applications provide good reasons to consider fern leaf sumac for textural interest and seasonal foliage color.

11. Chinese Sumac

Chinese Sumac Dense Spreading Shrub PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Oblong to lance leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Chinese Sumac (Rhus chinensis) grows more slowly than other varieties, forming a dense spreading shrub rather than a small tree. The Chinese sumac plant has compound leaves that emerge coppery in spring before deepening to a glossy dark green in summer. In autumn, the foliage transforms to brilliant shades of crimson and orange. 

Rhus chinensis is sturdy, allowing it to withstand urban conditions, including pollution, poor drainage, and heavy metal contaminants, with little additional care beyond occasional pruning to control shape or removing damaged wood. Showy fruit clusters provide winter interest and food for birds.

This sumac shrub grows approximately 8 to 12 feet tall and wide at maturity. It prefers full sun and well-draining soil but can tolerate some drought conditions once established. Chinese Sumac has a naturally rounded, spreading form with many branches originating at the base. The branches tend to droop slightly, giving the shrub a graceful silhouette.

The ability of this hardy shrub to withstand urban environmental stressors makes it suitable for landscapes in developed areas. The colorful foliage transition in fall and showy fruit clusters providing winter interest and benefits to wildlife are added features that contribute to its landscape value.

The relatively low maintenance requirements of Chinese Sumac and its tolerance of marginal growing conditions provide good reasons to consider this variety for urban landscapes, screening, hedging, and other applications requiring a stress-tolerant shrub.

12. Shining Sumac

Shining Sumac Orange Yellow Leaves PlantAmerica

🌱 Key Points
  • Growing Season: Flowers in summer, Grows new leaves in spring
  • Leaf Shape: Compound leaves, Oblong to ovate leaflets
  • Specific Needs: Full sun, Well-drained soil
  • Common Pests: Spider mites, Aphids

Shining Sumac is valued for its exfoliating bark, which peels away in thin strips, exposing bright orange-yellow inner bark. This feature provides visual texture and winter interest. The shining sumac tree’s compound leaves emerge burgundy in spring before transitioning to dark green in summer. The leaves transform into brilliant shades of crimson, scarlet, and orange in fall.

Shining Sumac grows rapidly, forming an upright small tree or large multi-stemmed shrub. This Sumac is ideal for adding fall color, visual texture, and winter interest to the landscape with minimal care requirements once established. It prefers full sun and well drained soil. Occasional pruning may be needed to control size, as well as removing dead wood to improve its shape.

The exfoliating bark, colorful fall foliage, and undemanding nature make Shining Sumac a valuable addition for large areas needing seasonal spotlight and low-maintenance plants. Consider planting Shining Sumac to provide visual interest throughout the year naturally and sustainably.

Conclusion

Sumac trees exhibit impressive fall foliage, winter bark textures, unique growth habits, and mature forms.

  • Fernleaf sumac is a dwarf cultivar prized for its delicate fern-like foliage.
  • Chinese Sumac (Rhus chinensis) grows more slowly than other varieties, forming a dense spreading shrub rather than a small tree.
  • Smooth Sumac typically reaches 6 to 12 feet tall and wide at maturity. Its leathery leaves remain deep green throughout the summer. 

Adding sumac trees to your landscape can transform ordinary outdoor spaces into naturally beautiful oases in sustainable, low-impact ways. Their resilience, hardiness, and self-sufficiency suit the philosophy of low-maintenance gardening. Once established, the sumac tree you select will bring continuous interest to your yard for decades with very little work from you!

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