Appearance''Rhus typhina'' is a dioecious, deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 5 m tall by 6 m broad. It has alternate, pinnately compound leaves 25–55 cm long, each with 9–31 serrate leaflets 6–11 cm long. Leaf petioles and stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. The velvety texture and the forking pattern of the branches, reminiscent of antlers, have led to the common name "stag's horn sumac". Staghorn sumac grows as female or male clones.
Small, greenish-white through yellowish flowers occur in dense terminal panicles, and small, green through reddish drupes occur in dense infructescences. Flowers occur from May through July and fruit ripens from June through September in this species’ native range. Infructescences are 10–20 cm long and 4–6 cm broad at their bases. Fall foliage is brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow. Fruit can remain on plants from late summer through spring.
Staghorn sumac spreads by seeds and rhizomes and forms clones often with the older shoots in the center and younger shoots around central older ones. Large clones can grow from octets in several years.
Within Anacardiaceae, staghorn sumac is not closely related to poison sumac , although they share the name "sumac."
In late summer some shoots have galls on leaf undersides, caused by the sumac leaf gall aphid, ''Melaphis rhois''. The galls are not markedly harmful to the tree.
NamingThe specific epithet ''typhina'' is explained in Linnaeus's and Ericus Torner's description of the plant with the phrase "Ramis hirtis uti typhi cervini" meaning "the branches are rough like antlers in velvet".
UsesSome beekeepers use dried sumac bobs as a source of fuel for their smokers.
The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink "lemonade" sometimes called "Indian lemonade". The leaves and berries of staghorn sumac have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes. This practice continues to a small degree to this day.
All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness. The leaves may be harvested in the summer and the bark all year round.
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