Staghorn Sumac   Edward Frank
  Oct 08, 2005 19:43 PDT 


Fall has arrived here in Western Pennsylvania. Some of the trees are
changing to fall colors. Others are going from green to greenish-brown.
This had been a drought year and it looks like the fall colors will be
suppressed. One exception to the lack of color is the Staghorn Sumac.
Every year without fail, sumac exhibits brilliant colors. Not just red in
color, but intense fluorescent reds and pinks, mixed with yellows and
oranges. For most of the year these shrub size bushes are passed without
much notice. They are in the corner of your mind, but not really seen.
With the brilliant fall colors these normally inauspicious trees jump to the
center of attention. There are hundreds of them along the short drive from
my home to work. Most are clumps of clonal trees, some 10 feet high, other
stretching gangling stems to heights of twenty feet or more.

Staghorn Sumac at Cook Forest State Park

I guess I have a soft spot for "unwanted trees." Sumac extends across the
entirety of Eastern United States. It grows along roadways, railroad
tracks, on strip mines, in old fields, and in areas where the soil has been
disturbed. It is a first colonizer of many of these areas, but its nature
is still ephemeral. The sumac trees grow for just a short time before
dying. Only in unusual circumstances do they persist for more than a few
years. The sumac occasionally will grow as a single stem, but more commonly
it will form a clump of stems. The sumac trees rhizomatous, with shallow
wide spreading roots. Clonal colonies grow from root sprouts and form a
dome shaped clump of genetically identical trees.

The ephemeral nature of the tree is one of its attractions for me. Colby
Rucker wrote: Re: Thresholds for sport and science   Oct 03, 2003.
Some trees, like staghorn sumac, spring up on a roadside cut, and die while
still dominant in their restricted domain. They seem almost eager to die.
Still other staghorns, in a better soil, do live much longer. Of course
without someone to run interference for them, they'd be overtopped on a rich
site. I saw several old, thick-barked specimens arching over a tall board
fence behind a McDonalds - their crowns had no competition, and their roots,
in good soil, were kept cool, and protected from drought.

I looked on our website to see how large of a staghorn sumac has been
documented by ENTS. There are only three listed on the website as being
measured. I don't have a copy of the entire dataset.

Tallest Trees in the East

Staghorn sumac    Rhus typhina
x 32.9'i    1' 2.5"      Md. Chase Creek Woods (site 3)(P), Arnold, Anne
Arundel Co. (tree died 1988) Rucker 4/19/87
x 20.4'g   0'   9.5"      Md. Chase Creek Woods (site 3)(P), Arnold, Anne
Arundel Co. (tree fell August 2003) Rucker 8/3/01

The only other measurement listed was taken by Cark Harting and myself at
Cook Forest in Sept 2005:
height 28.5   cbh 1.9 feet CFSP-River/Troutman Run Rd. 09/12/05   

Sumac being strangled by vine

Dale lists the tree as being measured by pole, actually it was measured via
laser/clinometer from a crotch in the trunk and the distance from the crotch
to the ground was measured by tape. Since the other two specimens listed
have died --- I guess that make this the current ENTS champion. There are
photos of one of the trunks of the sumac being strangled by a vine on that
page, and a shot of the clump itself on the staghorn sumac page: It is the thickest
trunk I have seen on a sumac personally, although some others found along
the highways near here may be taller.

If any of you are interested there are numerous WebPages on the internet
discussing staghorn sumac. Two of them I found interesting were one from
Ohio State:

And another one by an individual interested in Sumac:

The descriptions in these web documents suggest that while the sumac
commonly forms clumps 10 to 15 feet high, they can reach heights of 40 feet,
and diameters of 15 inches. There is significant potential to eclipse the
size of the sumac from Cook Forest. So if anyone is interested here is a
much under-measured tree in our dataset.

Ed Frank

RE: Staghorn Sumac   Dale J. Luthringer
  Oct 24, 2005 18:21 PDT 


Have you eaten their fuzzy red seeds yet? They taste like fuzzy orange
flavored grape-nuts. They're actually quite high in Vitamin C. Some
folks will make a tea out of them. They're one of my most favorite
roadside edibles.

Staghorn Sumac   Edward Frank
  Oct 28, 2005 18:49 PDT 

Jess, Will, and ENTS,

There was some joking about my Sumac post. I looked on the American Forest
site for what it says is the National champion using its formula:

Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina
Location: Camp Hill, AL

Circumference: 50 inches
Height: 61 feet
Spread: 20 feet
Points: 116
Most Recent Measurement: 1985
Nominator/s: Ted Kretschmann

That isn't a tiny bush. I wonder if it is still standing as it was
measured last in 1985. It would be interesting to get a good measurement
of the tree if it is still alive. I wonder how old it is if still alive.

Ed Frank
Re: Staghorn Sumac   Jess Riddle
  Nov 01, 2005 15:57 PST 


Staghorn sumac is a rare species in Alabama, so I suspect the champion
tree has been misidentified. Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is
an ostensibly similar, exotic species that has widely naturalized in
the southeast, and commonly reaches dimensions similar to those listed
by AFA. I'm curious how large the species can actually grow.

Re: Staghorn sumac
  Nov 13, 2005 04:20 PST 

Here is the 1993 listed co champ staghorn sumacs

1987 43"circ at 42"    29'tall   30' avg spd Clearfield county 1125 main st, DuBois

1988 34"cbh   43'tall    27' avg spd   Luzerne county end of flat rd. 250 yds NE on the Susquehanna river dike in Plymouth

If anyone is near these trees, we could use a remeasure.

Demise of PA Champion: Staghorn sumac   Edward Frank
  Nov 16, 2005 12:54 PST 
Scott and ENTS,

I went to check out the PA Champion Staghorn Sumac listed in the 1993 list at 1125 S. Main Street, Dubois, PA. The current owners of the property were not home, but I spoke to a neighbor. He remembered the tree in the back yard of the home, and even remembered it being measured. He held out his hands to indicate a diameter approximating the listed circumference of 43." He told me it was the biggest Sumac he had ever seen. Unfortunately the tree is dead. He said it first spilt, and was later blown over by the wind, and removed. So Scott, you can add this to the listing for a State historical champion - the listed numbers are reasonable, and likely were correct. That leaves the tree in Luzerne County yet to be confirmed or eliminated. Its numbers also seem to be reasonable... I will send you some other measures soon as nominees in case it also is gone or otherwise should be removed from the listings.

Ed Frank