Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) grows lower than most other native shrubs. This cousin of poison ivy and poison sumac does not share their toxic skin irritants—it is completely benign. Here “leaflets three, let it be” most certainly does not apply. Instead, fragrant sumac is a lovely addition to the landscape.
Fragrant sumac is sometimes used as a ground cover as it is capable of stabilizing banks and choking out weeds. Fragrant sumac's arching branches take root when they hit the ground. Most varieties grow to mounds three to five feet in height. A popular cultivar in the midwest, Gro-low, gets only a couple feet high. What fragrant sumac lacks in height, it makes up for in breadth. The plant spreads up to 8 to 10 feet wide and root suckers extend its reach so that it forms thickets in the wild. Like many other sumacs, it provides excellent fall color that ranges from orange-red (Gro-low, for example) to purplish red.
Fragrant sumac does well in poor soil, including dry, sandy soil such as we have in Beverly Shores. It produces small yellow flowers in early spring that are followed by hairy red fruits. Break a twig or tear a leave and you will smell the fragrance that gives the plant its name.
For best color, fragrant sumac prefers full sun, but it does well enough in partial shade to be recommended for use as a partial shade solution by the Chicago Botanic Garden.
You can find fragrant sumac growing in sand near the lake as well as in the parking area of Rebora Plaza. The NPS Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center gardens have several large, well-marked plantings.
If you have questions about fragrant sumac or other native or non-native plants, don’t hesitate to contact Terry Bonace (firstname.lastname@example.org), Candice Smith (email@example.com), or Bill Schaudt (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance. Also please explore our website, www.bserg.org, for further information on invasive plants and native replacements.