Stag’s horn sumach is native to the north-eastern parts of North America. It is a suckering tree or shrub which thrives in full sun, on sandy slopes or along roadsides.
The attractive leaves are composed of multiple leaflets, which in autumn take on all possible shades of yellow, orange, red and violet. In summer it bears small green flowers in erect cones, 20cms, which in the females change in autumn to handsome glowing red spikes of berries coated in red hairs, which remain on the tree after the leaves fall.
At Mustila, this showy but slightly tender shrub is being test-grown in small groups in different parts of the Arboretum, but the best individuals have been left to grow in the nursery for seed production. The seed provenances under test have all been collected on Mustila’s own expeditions to the north-eastern edge of its range, in Quebec, Canada. After the tender seedling stage their hardiness has been astonishingly good.
Neither stag’s horn nor the related species variously know as scarlet, smooth or upland sumach (R. glabra), also growing at Mustila, causes skin irritation. The bad reputation of sumachs in this respect is due to the so-called poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), which was earlier thought to be one of the sumachs, but is now classed under a different genus, Toxicodendron.