Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Smooth Sumac

Smooth Sumac

Rhus glabra

Full sun; medium to dry moisture level; makes vigorous growth on most soils from coarse sandy to gravelly to fine heavy clay, except those that are poorly drained; slightly acid to neutral pH.

10-15 feet height by 10-15 feet spread; yellowish green flowers in panicles, 5-10 inches long, in early summer; showy, red, hairy berries, each ¼ inch in diameter, held in dense spikes up to 8 inches long, in fall.

Growth Rate: Rapid. Aggressively suckers into spreading colonies with an extensive lateral root system that can spread outward at 3 or more feet per year.

Maintenance: No serious insect or disease problems. Susceptible to wind and ice damage. Colonies can be rejuvenated every few years by cutting them to the ground in mid-winter.

Propagation: Easy by root division in early winter. Difficult by seed as germination rate is low, and seed requires acid scarification for 1-3 hours.

Native Region: Statewide

Multi-stemmed shrub or small tree with an open, irregularly spreading form.   Very similar in appearance to Staghorn Sumac except young stems are smooth instead of softly hairy, hence the common name. Does have some nice ornamental features including ferny foliage, fruiting clusters and bright orange to red foliage in fall. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants, and only females produce seed. (Occasionally male and female flowers are found on the same plant.) Colonies are often single-sexed, formed from a single, suckering parent.

This is the hardest to contain of all the Rhus species and best used in wild areas. Desirable when massed for stabilizing slopes or for hard-to-cover areas with poorer soil or on drastically disturbed sites. Too weedy and aggressive for shrub borders. Occurs naturally in old fields, woodland edges, roadsides and other dry, open habitat. Colonies lose vigor in about 15 years. Cultivars available.

Very high wildlife value. Fruit provides food for pheasants, quail, turkey, deer and about 300 species of songbirds. Valuable to a wide variety of native bees as well as honeybees. Attracts butterflies. Larval host for Hairstreak butterfly.

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