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Fragrant sumac

Leaves of 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 species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."   

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:

  • Foundation,
  • Massing,
  • 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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Dry soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Sandy soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Occasional drought,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Road salt

Seasons of Interest:

  • early spring,
  • early summer,
  • midsummer,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous,
  • Yellow

Shape or Form:

  • Creeping,
  • Mounded,
  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Thicket-forming

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.
The cultivar 'Gro-low' is often used as a ground cover as it is lower-growing.  It is a trailing-rooting and colonizing ground cover.  Trailing-rooting ground covers have trailing stems that spread out from a central root system.  These stems spread out horizontally over the ground and can root where they come in contact with the soil.  New shoots will be formed at the point where rooting occurs.  Colonizing ground covers produce underground stems that spread out horizontally and shallowly, produce roots and then send up new shoots.  These plants are strong growers and may have the potential to grow aggressively.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil.
Adapts to dry, poor conditions, moderately drought tolerant. Salt 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 are 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 

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Gro-low Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-low’ ):  Grows  2 to 3 feet tall with a 6 to 8 foot 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.

Location of Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac) at the Arboretum