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TREES & plants

Fragrant sumac

Fragrant sumac is a low growing shrub forming a thick, dense mass of stems. Use as a ground cover, in mass, and an excellent shrub for stabilizing banks and slopes.  The glossy, blue-green leaves emit a lemon scent when crushed, and turn a mixture of red, burgundy, purple color in the fall.  

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


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

Size & Form

A small rounded, spreading shrub which forms a dense thicket of stems.
Height is 2 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil.
Adapts to dry, poor conditions, moderately drought tolerant.
An excellent shrub to stabilize slopes and create windbreaks. Stems develop roots where it touches the ground.
Prune every three years by removing 1/3 of the older, larger canes to the ground in late winter to stimulate new growth.

Disease, pests, and problems

None serious, sumac beetle, leaf spots, and scale minor problems.
Susceptible to verticillium wilt.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to eastern U.S.

C-Value: 10

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Berries ripen in late summer and may persist into winter attract many birds, including robin, sparrows, goldfinch, and chickadee.

Bark color and texture 

Stems are thin, brownish-gray and aromatic when crushed. Rust colored lenticels are present on young stems.
There is no terminal buds, but overwintering male catkins are present.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, 1 1/2 to 3 inch long, compound leaves are trifolate (3 leaflets). Leaf margins are irregularly toothed or lobed. Often glossy on upper surface, paler beneath.
Shiny dark green in summer turning a mixture of red, burgundy, purple and green in fall.
Leaves emit a lemon scent when crushed.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Often dioecious, small clusters appear before the leaves. Male flowers are 1 inch, yellow-green catkins and persist through winter, female flowers are short panicles at end of branches.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Female plants will produce dense, clusters of fuzzy red fruit in late summer to early fall.

Cultivars and their differences 

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