Shrewd Cultivation of Smooth Sumac: A Basic Primer
Smooth sumac is a U.S.-indigenous plant used primarily as emergency food for wildlife in the wintertime. Sumac species also serve as excellent organic decorative plants and shrubbery, due to vivid crimson foliage that appears during each year’s fall season.
Mature Height Rarely exceeds 10 to 15 feet, with each limb having compound leaves that can reach a total length of 24 inches at full maturity. Young leafage is narrow or round at the base and extends to tips that graduate into sharp points with fine-toothed edges.
Bloom Period and Color
Leaflets are dark green with smooth top surfaces and pale underneath, except areas located along the midrib. Small clusters of yellow flowers with a greenish tint bloom in June and July, then bear fruit that matures between August and September. Such fruit has a compact head clustered with round, crimson, hairy fruits called drupes. Each drupe is usually about ¼-inch wide and contains one seed inside an inner core. Every drupe cluster may include 100 to 700 grains. Sumacs must be three to four years old before they can bear fruit, however.
Smooth sumac plants are highly resistant to drought conditions and often found along roadsides, fence rows, railroad rights-of-way and in open fields or burnt-out grassy areas with gravelly or sandy soil. All sumacs are also extremely tolerant of slightly acidic soil with textures that range from coarse to very fine. As sumacs are not shaded tolerant, plants are classified as an early successional floral species.
Hardy Planting HintsSumac plant seed germination is enhanced by passing through the digestive tracts of rabbits, quail, and ring-necked pheasant birds. The proximity of fire has also been demonstrated to increase germination. Sumac stands are best maintained with the elimination of competing for vegetation by mowing, chemically treating or burning adjacent areas. As plants are shade intolerant and don’t compete with invading trees, sumac growth is rarely seen beneath closed canopies. There is currently no known distinct cultivar(s) for sumac species. For most relevant information regarding ideal planting times in your specific location, contact a local Cooperative Extensive Service field office or state agriculture department.
Seedlings cultivated by a nursery with an average age of 12 months are typically used to plant large areas or entire fields of sumac. After becoming firmly established, plant stand growth spreads from sprouts and goes out in an extensive root system at a rate of about 3 feet per year. Smooth sumac colonies start losing full vigor after 15 years or so.
Nurseries That Sell Sumac Trees