Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Rhus aromatica

I'm showcasing this delightful native ground covering shrub for Wildflower Wednesday.
It's in full fall color. That's reason enough to make it a star, but, I think this fantastic native is under-appreciated and should be in more of our gardens.
Source: MOBOT
 It blooms in spring and the nectar and pollen attract small bees, flies and even some larger carpenter bees. 

Small clusters of hairy, red berries which may persist into winter replace the female flowers. The ripe fruits are a treat for birds and small mammals.
Fall brings gorgeous leaf color changes and inflorescence (male catkins) form in late summer and persist throughout the winter until eventually blooming in spring.
It's adaptability makes it attractive for difficult gardens
The species Fragrant sumac is a woody plant that can grow 6 to 12 feet. That's entirely too large for my garden (and most of yours), so I planted 'Gro-Low'. It was selected by growers for its dwarf habit making it very attractive for my garden. It will grow in poor, dry soil in full sun or deep shade. It requires only good drainage. At two to three feet tall and with a 4 foot spread it's a delightful groundcover under my Rusty Blackhaw. The spreading branches root where they touch the ground and that helps it form a dense weed suppressing mat.

Leaves and twigs are aromatic when bruised giving rise to its name~Fragrant sumac. The smaller leaves do have a slight resemblance to those of its relative poison ivy (Rhus radicans), however this fragrant sumac is a totally non-poisonous plant.
It has lovely orange-yellow fall color in October.
 Hamamelis, Hydrangea arborescens, Chasmanthium latifolium
In the drama of a wildflower garden there are no bit players. The canopy, the understory, the herbacious layer and the ground cover are all part of the diversity ensemble. Understory shrubs like Fragrant sumac provide food, nesting and shelter for mammals and birds, as well as being host plants to butterflies, moths and other insects. They are essential if you want to garden for wildlife and that's what my garden is all about. Rhus aromatica has been specifically chosen with birds, insects and other critters in mind and because it makes sense for this garden.

I love it and am here to tout its charms. 

Thank you for stopping by for Wildflower Wednesday!

Rhus  aromatica~The particulars

Cultivar 'Gro-Low 
Common Name: fragrant sumac
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Anacardiaceae
Zones: 3 to 9
Native Range: native to Canada and the United States from southeast Ontario to Vermont down into central Florida to west Texas up through Nebraska over to southern Wisconsin back to Ontario.
Height: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 4  to 6 feet
Bloom: Yellowish flowers in April/May
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Dry to medium with good drainage, not particular about soil ph.
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Fragrance: The leaves and stems have a citrus fragrance when crushed
Flower: Yellowish and significant
Leaves: Alternate and trifoliate with the middle leaflet being the largest of the three.
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies and many bees
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Rabbit, Drought, Erosion, Clay Soil, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky SoilComments: A low maintenance, easy to please plant for naturalizing and for erosion control. The species form is considerably taller at 6 to 12 feet, but shares all other characteristics, including its charm.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Hi! Nice collection of various kind of leaves and berries. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I agree this can be a *beautiful* plant. I'm trialing three specimens in a clump in full sun and heavy clay soil.

    Half the foliage dropped early this year, but the half that hung on longer developed beautiful fall color.

    I agree that the flowers seem great for pollinators and the berries are cute.

    Any advice on pruning this one back? After just a couple of years, it has grown so quickly that it threatens to outgrow its bed... (Of course, I could just try to expand the bed...)

    Though it has tolerated my heavy clay so far, I've also heard that it prefers loose or at least well-drained soil and may be short-lived on heavy clay. We shall see...

  3. We have birds and bugs, and flowers and plants for them.

  4. Our wild life consists of birds, rabbits and squirrels. Now with 2 small dogs well ...it's catch me if you can for the rabbits and squirrels. They also redesigned my garden beds so I have some creative work ahead of me.

  5. I love sumac and so so the birds here. I have a couple of seedlings of Rhus typhina that I hope to plant in the meadow area and perhaps in a back area of the garden. But I am intrigued by Rhus aromatica and especially 'Gro Low'. I will definitely be checking this out....love learning about natives...thanks Gail!

  6. I am trying this in a dry clay soil in part shade near a European Mountain Ash. Probably not ideal! It has been quite slowly growing over 2 summers, and not suckering extensively. I haven't had a berry yet, but am hoping next year is the year. I have been considering planting more next summer, to form a small hedge, but since it is not a cultivar I am worried I will plant myself into a jungle! We shall see!

  7. I wasn't familiar with this plant until I saw it in a lovely woodland setting at the Klehm Arboretum & Botanical Garden in Rockford, Ill. It was forming a tidy, tight groundcover as you describe. One of the people I was with mentioned she used to see it in gardens, but it isn't used as much anymore. I'm thinking of several spots where I might add it. It's a beautiful native plant. Thanks for hosting, Gail! Here's my link for this month: http://plantpostings.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-magic-of-autumn-sunlight.html

  8. This is a plant I am not familiar with. It's a nice looking plant in all seasons, it looks like.

    1. It's native in your part of the world Sue...Go for the cultivar though.

  9. I like the berries and fall color of Sumacs. I've been reluctant to plant them because of the space they take up.

  10. The sumac you are featuring is lovely. What are your recommended sources (if one does not have a gardening friend who can share) for some of your featured plants? Thanks for all of your well researched posts and lovely photography!

    1. I am lucky to have a native plant nursery nearby, it's GroWild in Fairview, TN. Moore and Moore nursey also local sells neonic free plants. I also order online from Prairie Moon Nursery, Sunlight Gardens and Lazy S Nursery.

  11. You've chosen an excellent plant to profile. I've never grown the Aromatic Sumac in my gardens, but there were several in a garden I managed for a few years and what a lovely plant: beautiful, wildlife friendly and hardy--a win, win, win. Your photos are lovely--thanks as always for hosting. My post is a wee bit late, but here 'tis" http://mygardenersays.com/2015/10/31/the-lily-and-the-crag/

  12. I wasn't familiar with this plant either, but reading Beth's comments, I realized we did see this at Klehm, and it made a beautiful groundcover. The fall color is gorgeous! I love the way you combine different natives to create the beautiful scene in the last photo, Gail--your fall garden must be stunning!


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson