Plant of the Week: Staghorn Sumac

Photo by Friends of the High LineThe staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina, is particularly striking during the colder months. Photo by Friends of the High Line

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.


Rhus typhina, the staghorn sumac, is a small colonizing tree native to eastern North America. It is in the family Anacardiaceae, which includes cashews, pistachios, and poison ivy.

While autumn is usually the prime season to highlight sumac species (see Schmaltzia copallinum and Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’), staghorn sumac is striking in winter, and easily identified by its antler-like structure, persistent burgundy seed heads, and dense, velvety reddish-brown hairs which cover the branches of the previous two years’ growth. Botanist Carl Linnaeus described this species as one with “rough branches like antlers in velvet." Thus, its common name.

The fruit of this tree can be steeped in cold water to make a delicious pink lemonade-like beverage. The roots, inner bark and leaves make an excellent natural dye. Beekeepers sometimes use the dried flowers as a fuel source for their hive smokers.

See Rhus typhina growing on the High Line between West 14th Street and West 15th Street.

Download our January Bloom Guide.

Recent Posts
Plant of the Week: Sea Lavender
view post
Open Encounter: A Conversation with Brendan Fernandes
view post