Plant of the Week: Cutleaf staghorn sumac

Cutleaf Staghorn sumac is just one of several varieties of sumac grown at the High Line. Sumac trees are known for their brilliant fall foliage. Photo by Steven Severinghaus

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 with you one of our gardeners’ current favorites.


As temperatures cool and the days grow shorter, hints of fall color are appearing in the planting beds of the High Line. On the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck, the sumac trees’ leaves are beginning to turn a brilliant red. This week we celebrate one cultivar of sumac, Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata,’ or Cutleaf staghorn sumac. Staghorn sumacs get their name from the characteristic shape and texture of their branches, which are velvety like a stag’s antlers. This particular cultivar is a common ornamental found throughout the United States and appreciated for its hearty nature, blooms, and fall foliage.

Staghorn sumac trees are found throughout the United States and Canada, and like some of their fellow sumacs, the plant has many every day uses. The dried fruit of the staghorn sumac may be used to make “Sumac-ade,” a tart drink similar to pink lemonade, or even used as a natural dye. Interestingly, the family Rhus contains both common poisonous and edible plants, including cashews and poison ivy. Foragers looking to harvest from staghorn sumacs should also be aware of the closely related poison sumac.

On the High Line between West 14th and West 15th Streets

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