Up to 30’ tall, but usually 5’ to 15’. Staghorn sumac has distinct compound leaves consisting of 9-31 oblong and serrated leaflets. It can be distinguished from the otherwise similar looking Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) by the dense brown hairs covering its branches, giving the appearance of “velvet,” like that on deer antlers. Both male and female individuals of this dioecious species have greenish yellow flowers (male flowers are slightly larger) that bloom May through July. The bark is gray to gray-brown and is made rough with horizontal pores. Female plants produce a tight cluster of tiny (10-20 cm) berry-like fruits known as drupes in late summer and early fall. These fruits have a dense covering of hairs, just like the branches.
Staghorn sumac is pollinated by many species of short-tongued bees, wasps, and flies, which visit flowers for nectar. Its seeds are dispersed by many species of birds. Fruits stay on plant from fall into spring, serving as an important winter food source for over 30 species of bird, including robins, bluebirds, and mourning doves.
Staghorn sumac is a hardy shrub that grows on dry, rocky, and gravelly soil in partial shade to full sun. A rapid colonizer of abandoned agricultural sites. It can invade prairie habitats, quickly forming large colonies which sprout from root suckers. Look for it along roadsides, railroad corridors, forest edges, and in old fields.
In the Arb:
This shrub can often be seen in bloom on Hillside Prairie in late spring and early summer and is more or less abundant depending on how recently the prairie has been burned.