Deciduous, Evergreen, Shrubs, Trees
Of the ornamental sumacs, deciduous kinds are extremely hardy to cold; they are noted for brilliant fall leaf color and, on female plants, showy clusters of (usually) red fruits that attract birds. They tend to produce suckers, especially if their roots are disturbed by cultivation.
Evergreen species are less hardy.
All sumac species thrive in almost any soil, as long as drainage is good (soggy soils can kill them). Poison oak and poison ivy were once members of the genus Rhus, but they have been reclassified as Toxicodendron.Rhus aromatica
Native to Eastern North America. Fast-growing plant to 3 to 5 ft. tall, sprawling 5 ft. or wider. Three-leafleted leaves to 3 in. long are fragrant when brushed against or crushed. Foliage turns red in fall. Tiny yellowish flowers in spring; small red fruit. Coarse bank cover, ground cover for poor or dry soils.Rhus glabra
Native to much of North America. Upright grower to 10 ft., sometimes treelike to 20 ft. Spreads widely by suckers; in the wild, forms large patches. Looks much like Rhus typhina and has the same garden uses, but usually grows lower and does not have velvety branches. Leaves divided into 11 to 23 tooth-edged, rather narrow, 2- to 5-in.-long leaflets that are deep green above, whitish beneath; foliage turns scarlet in fall. Inconspicuous flowers in early summer are followed by showy clusters of scarlet fruits that remain on bare branches well into winter.
Native to coastal Southern California, Channel Islands, Baja California. Generally 3 to 10 ft. high and wide; rarely tree-like to 30 ft. Leathery dark green leaves are oval to nearly round, 1 to 2 1/2 in. long. White or pinkish flowers in dense clusters from midwinter to spring (sometimes from early winter into summer). Clustered small, flattish fruits are reddish and gummy, with tart pulp that can be used to flavor drinks, hence the common name.
Grows best near coast, where established plants need no irrigation. Makes a wonderful ground cover on rocky slopes exposed to salt-laden winds; one plant eventually sprawls over a wide area, even down cliffs. In less windy places, use as a tall screen or background plant. Excellent for espalier against fences and walls. Can be trimmed to make a dense formal hedge and maintained just under a foot wide. Useful in erosion control. Highly susceptible to verticillium wilt.Rhus lancea
Native to Africa. Slow grower 20 to 30 ft. tall, 20 to 35 ft. wide. Open, spreading habit; graceful, weeping outer branchlets. Dark green leaves are divided into three willow-like, 4- to 5-in.-long leaflets. Inconspicuous early spring flowers are followed by clusters of pea-size yellow or red fruit that can make a mess on pavement. This species can be trained to a single trunk or allowed to grow as a multitrunked tree somewhat resembling olive (Olea). Makes a good specimen, background plant, screen; can also be clipped into a hedge.Rhus microphylla
Native to southwesternU.S. and Mexico.Grows to 8 ft. (possibly 15 ft.)tall, 12 ft. wide. Leaves aredivided featherwise into five tonine small (less than 1/2 in.long) leaflets. Clusters of littlewhite flowers appear in springbefore leafout; these are followedin early summer by tiny,hairy orange or red fruit.Rhus ovata
Native to dry slopes away from coast in Southern California, Baja California. Upright or spreading habit. Typically grows 4 to 10 ft. high and wide, though it can be shorter or taller. Takes well to pruning. Glossy, leathery leaves are 1 1/2 to 3 in. long, somewhat trough shaped, pointed at tips. Dense clusters of white or pinkish spring flowers are followed by small, reddish, hairy fruit coated with a sugary secretion.
Same landscape uses as species Rhus integrifolia but for inland areas rather than seacoast. Rarely bothered by pests or diseases.Rhus trilobata
Native from Illinois to Texas and California. Similar in most details to Rhus aromatica, but most people find the scent of the bruised leaves unpleasant. Clumping habit makes it a natural low hedge; also good for erosion control. Brilliant yellow to red fall color.
Native to eastern North America, this upright grower reaches 15 to 30 ft. tall, spreading much wider by suckers. Very similar to the species Rhus glabra, but the branches have a velvety coat of short brown hairs—much like antlers of a deer “in velvet.” Leaves are divided into 11–31 toothed, 5-in.-long leaflets; foliage is deep green above, grayish beneath, turns yellow orange to rich red in fall. Blooms in early summer, bearing 4 to 8-in.-long clusters of tiny greenish blossoms followed by clusters of fuzzy crimson fruits that hang on all winter, gradually turning brown.Rhus virens
Native to southeasternArizona, New Mexico,Texas, and Mexico. To 12 ft. talland wide, with dark greenleaves divided featherwise intofive to nine 1 1/2-in. leaflets.White spring and summer flowers(not showy) are followed bysmall, berrylike red fruit. Toleratesopen shade, making it agood choice for an understoryplant beneath tall trees.
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