TREES & Plants

Fragrant Sumac

Fragrant sumac is a very adaptable plant that is useful as a ground cover, or in mass, for its durability and fall color.  It is also an excellent shrub for stabilizing banks and slopes.  The glossy, blue-green leaves emit a lemon scent when crushed, and turn a magnificent burgundy color in the fall.  

Botanical name: 
Rhus aromatica
All Common Names: 
Fragrant Sumac, Aromatic Sumac
Family (English): 
Cashew, Sumac
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Ground cover
  • Shrub
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
  • Dry sites
  • Occasional drought
  • Alkaline soil
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Alkaline soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
  • Yellow
Size Range: 
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)
  • Low-growing shrub (under 3 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Mounded
  • Spreading
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing
  • Foundation
  • Mixed border
Time of Year: 
  • Early spring
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Prune 1/3 of the older, larger canes to the ground in late winter to stimulate new growth.
Excellent shrub to stabilize banks and slopes

Disease, pests, and problems


Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Very adaptable plant

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 10


Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Berries that ripen August-September and may persist into winter attract many birds, including robin, sparrows, goldfinch, and chickadee.  However, berries usually lose their bird-attracting color in winter.

Bark color and texture 


Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture


  • Arrangement: trifoliate
  • Texture: glossy
  • Blue-green
  • Fall color: burgundy

Leaves emit a lemon scent when crushed.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size


Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

In August and September, the female plants will produce red, fuzzy clusters of fruit. 
This species is most easily recognized in the winter for its terminally borne male catkins.

Cultivars and their differences 

Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-low’ (Gro-low Fragrant Sumac):  Grows  2-3’ tall with a 6-8’ spread.   This cultivar is a popular shrub in the Midwest for its fall color and low-growing characteristics.
Its aromatic, glossy green leaves turn a red-orange color in the fall.   Ideal as a ground cover or in mass, and is an excellent shrub to stabilize on banks and slopes.