The sumac tree (Rhus typhina) is also known as staghorn sumac or staghorn sumach. It's one of around 200 trees in the Rhus genus around the world, and is native to north America. Highly ornamental, it's commonly grown in UK gardens for its attractive branching habit, which is said to resemble a pair of stag's horns (hence its name), along with its fresh green, finely divided foliage, which turns glorious shades of red and orange in autumn. In spring, candle-like, yellow-green flowers form, which mature into a cluster of reddish fruits that hold throughout winter. If dried, the fruits make a passable substitute for the spice, sumac, which is usually made from the closely related Sicilian sumac, Rhus coriaria.


In its native habitat, Rhus typhina can grow to heights of more than 20m, but in the UK it's not likely to grow taller than 5m, making it a perfect tree for small gardens. Bear in mind, however, that sumac trees have a tendency to sucker, so may be best grown in a pot.

All parts of the sumac tree, except for the ripe fruits, can cause stomach upset if ingested. Sumac trees also have milky sap which can irritate skin, so wear gloves when pruning.

How to grow sumac tree

Grow sumac tree in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. You may want to plant it in a container to prevent suckering, or remove suckers annually, in winter. Prune back in late winter to maximise the growth of colourful new stems.

Where to grow a sumac tree

Sumac tree growing in a pot. Jason Ingram
Sumac tree growing in a pot. Jason Ingram

Grow stag's horn sumac in a sunny, sheltered location such as in a border, against a wall or as part of an urban container display. It's worth remembering that the sumac tree turns incredible shades of orange and red in autumn, so consider growing it in front of a window or in a focal point in the garden where you can fully appreciate its autumn colouring.

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How to plant sumac tree

Most sumac trees are supplied in pots, so simply dig a hole the same depth as the pot and slightly wider, remove the rootball from the pot and plant the tree, firming soil around it and watering well. A thick mulch placed around the stem of the tree will prevent competitive weed growth as it becomes established. Alternatively, plant a compact variety such as 'Tiger Eyes' in a pot, choosing the largest pot you have available (with a volume or at least 20 litres), using a peat-free, loam-based compost.

How to care for sumac trees

Sumac tree fruit. Pal Debois
Sumac tree fruit. Paul Debois

Sumac trees have shallow roots so take care when digging near the root ball, as damaged roots have a tendency to sucker. Sumac trees are drought tolerant, but you may need to water newly-planted trees in extremely dry weather.

Advice on buying sumac trees

  • There are several varieties of sumac tree available to buy in the UK, but the most common is the stag's horn sumac, Rhus typhina
  • Always check for signs of damage or disease before planting

Where to buy sumac trees