Some of the most common small shrubs found in Indiana are the four species of sumacs. At least one variety can be found in every Hoosier county. During the summer months they may be overlooked, but come fall it is hard to miss their vivid red foliage. Often one of the first plants to turn, the sumacs, if given enough sunlight, can indeed live up to their nickname of the “King of Color.”
All of our sumacs have compound leaves and fruiting heads that are full of small, very oily seeds. These are tightly-packed heads that are also hard to overlook. In Indiana the most common sumac is the smooth sumac. It is found all across the state and in all of the lower 48 United States.
It has deep red fruit that are only one-eighth of an inch in diameter. While small they are so densely packed together that they appear much larger than they really are. These clusters may be as much as eight inches in length. They can last all winter and can provide food for both birds and some mammals.
The shining sumac, also known as winged and dwarf, is found across most of southern Indiana and a few northern counties, but is not found in most sections of central Hoosierland. As with all of the sumacs, it has flowers that have a disk that is full of nectar. Bees, as well as insects, love to visit these flowers.
While sometimes called dwarf sumac, it can reach a height of up to 18 feet, but is usually much shorter. The smooth variety can grow to 20 feet tall while the staghorn sumac is the champion as it can reach a height of as much as 30 feet.
The staghorn sumac receives its name due to the dense, long brown hairs that cover its twigs and branches. They do look like deer antlers in its velvet stage, thus the name staghorn.