Though gardeners frequently dismiss them as weeds, sumacs can make fine ornamentals. Most display brilliant fall color and (on female plants) showy clusters of berries that attract birds. All species thrive in almost any well-drained soil and tolerate drought with ease. On the down side, most sumacs sucker freelyespecially if their roots have been disturbed by cultivationand they can be quite invasive. They are best used in naturalized areas.
R. aromatica. FRAGRANT SUMAC. Deciduous shrub. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to eastern North America. Fast-growing plant to 35 ft. tall, sprawling 5 ft. or wider. Three-leafleted leaves to 3 in. long are fragrant when brushed against or crushed. Foliage turns red in fall. Tiny yellowish flowers in spring; small red fruit. Coarse bank cover, ground cover for poor or dry soils. 'Gro-Low' grows 23 ft. high, 68 ft. wide. 'Green Globe' is dense and rounded, to 6 ft. high and wide.
R. copallinum. SHINING SUMAC. Deciduous shrub or small tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Native to the eastern U.S. Grows quite fast to 1025 ft. tall, becoming very broad as it matures, with a picturesque flat top. Highly ornamentalbut unsuitable for small gardens, as it produces suckers and self-sows freely, forming large colonies. Shiny, dark green leaves are divided featherwise into 9 to 21 leaflets. Fall color varies from rich crimson, red-purple, or scarlet. Bears showy chartreuse flower spikes in summer, followed by clusters of crimson fruit that persists into winter. Particularly well adapted to dry, poor, rocky soils. R. c. latifolia 'Morton', prairie flame shining sumac, has larger leaves that turn brilliant red in fall; a lower (57 ft.), more compact habit; and doesn't produce fruit.
R. glabra. SMOOTH SUMAC. Deciduous shrub or tree. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to much of North America. Upright grower to 10 ft., sometimes treelike to 20 ft. Spreads widely by suckers; in the wild, forms large patches. Looks much like R. typhina and has the same garden uses, but usually grows lower and does not have velvety branches. Leaves divided into 11 to 23 tooth-edged, rather narrow, 2- to 5-in.-long leaflets that are deep green above, whitish beneath; foliage turns scarlet in fall. Inconspicuous flowers in early summer are followed by showy clusters of scarlet fruit that remains on the bare branches well into winter. Leaves of 'Laciniata' are deeply cut and slashed, giving the plant an almost fernlike appearance. It may be a hybrid.
R. trilobata. SQUAWBUSH, SKUNKBUSH. Deciduous shrub. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native from Illinois westward to Texas and California, north to Washington. Similar in most details to R. aromatica, but most people find the scent of the bruised leaves unpleasant. Clumping habit makes it a natural low hedge. Brilliant yellow to red fall color.
R. typhina. STAGHORN SUMAC. Deciduous shrub or tree. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Native to eastern North America. Upright to 15 ft. (sometimes 30 ft.) tall, spreading much wider by suckers. Very similar to R. glabra, but the branches have a velvety coat of short brown hairsmuch like antlers of a deer in velvet. Leaves are divided into 11 to 31 toothed leaflets, to 5 in. long; they are deep green above, grayish beneath, turn yellow-orange to rich red in fall. About 4- to 8-in.-long clusters of tiny greenish blooms show in early summer, followed by clusters of fuzzy crimson fruit that hangs on all winter, gradually turning brown. 'Dissecta' ('Laciniata'), known as cutleaf staghorn sumac, is a female selection with deeply cut leaflets; it grows 1012 ft. tall. 'Tiger Eyes', to 6 ft. tall and wide, has deeply cut golden leaves with pink leafstalks; foliage turns orange and scarlet in autumn. It does not spread aggressively.
R. virens. EVERGREEN SUMAC. Evergreen shrub. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native to southeastern Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico. Generally makes a mounding clump about 6 ft. tall and wide, with lowest branches close to or touching ground, but can reach 12 ft. high and wide. Relatively slow growing. New leaves are often reddish; mature leaves (to 6 in. long, with five to nine leaflets) are glistening dark green, with purple winter tints. Honey-scented white flowers in late summer attract bees and butterflies and are followed by plump, fuzzy clusters of red fruit. Highly tolerant of dry, rocky, or chalky soils. Sun or light shade.