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Blazing Sumacs

Posted: October 4, 2013

Cutleaf smooth sumac is a great plant for naturalizing an area.
The cut leaves of  Rhus glabra ‘Laciniata’ turn a bright orange/red in the fall (contrast that to the still green leaves in the background)

The cut leaves of Rhus glabra ‘Laciniata’ turn a bright orange/red in the fall (contrast that to the still green leaves in the background)

Read no further if you have a small yard or limited space for additional plantings. Do read on if the job site has a hillside or a large area that needs plants to make the space come alive. A great plant for naturalizing an area is Rhus glabra ‘Laciniata’ or better known as cutleaf smooth sumac. It will grow up to 15 feet in width (also in height) and spreads by forming colonies.  

I have seen this perform well in the managed landscape, which typically have good or half-decent soils but literature states that it will do very well in dry, poor soils. Beyond soils, its toughness extends to the climate as this native is hardy from Zone 9 (Florida) all the way up to Zone 3 (upstate New York).

At this time of the year, its’ deeply cut and lobed leaves are a bright orangish-red.  When a naturalized area of ‘Laciniata’ turns to the fall color, it is pretty spectacular.  Even when those leaves drop, there is value to this plant. The winter berries (resulting from greenish/yellowish flowers in June) hang on into late winter. Not only do they provide some ornamental qualities in the barren winter landscape but birds feast upon the berries source when other food sources have been exhausted.

There is another sumac in the nursery trade, Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’, which also has deeply divided leaflets. The only major difference between the two is that the stems of R. typhina ‘Laciniata’ are covered in short, soft hairs while those hairs are mostly absent in R. glabra ‘Laciniata’.

Contact Information

Tom Butzler
  • Extension Educator
Phone: 570-726-0022