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Shining sumac

Red fall color of shining sumac.

Shining sumac is a very adaptable, large, colony-forming shrub to small tree used in groups in the shrub border, as a large bank cover or in naturalizing areas.  The shining dark green foliage turns a flaming red to red-purple in the fall.  In addition, female plants produce terminal clusters of greenish-yellow flowers that mature into clusters of small, red hairy fruits in September and October. An excellent plant for poor dry soils.

"This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name:

Rhus copallina

All common names:

Shining sumac, flameleaf Sumac, winged sumac

Family (English):

Cashew, Sumac

Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Screen,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet),
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Dry soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Occasional drought,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall,
  • late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Yellow

Shape or Form:

  • Broad,
  • Irregular,
  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Thicket-forming,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

More Information:

Size and Form

This large shrub or small tree can grow 20 to 35 feet high and wide.  Produces suckers.

Tree & Plant Care

This is a very adaptable, colony-forming shrub.
Best in full sun for excellent fall color. Requires well drained soil.
Prune back stems to control spreading.

Disease, pests, and problems

Leaf spots, aphids, scale, verticillium wilt.

Disease, Pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity and serial salt spray.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 6
Native to eastern and central U.S., often found in sandy or rocky woodland borders and savannas.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is smooth, silvery gray to light brown with raised lenticels. Older stems develop a peeling bark.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, compound leaves are pinnate, consisting of 7 to 21 leaflets and the central leaf stalk is winged between each pair of leaflets.
The shiny, dark green foliage turns a bright scarlet to crimson red in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Tiny, greenish-yellow flowers bloom in terminal panicles in late spring to early summer.
Plants have male and female flowers usually occurring on separate plants (dioecious). 

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Pollinated female flowers produce showy fruiting clusters (up to 8 inches long). Each cluster contains numerous hairy, berry-like fruit (drupes) which ripen in autumn, gradually turning maroon-brown as they persist through much of the winter.  Fruit is attractive to wildlife.

Cultivars and their differences 

“This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Prairie Flame™ (Rhus copallina var. latifolia ‘Morton’ ):  Grows 5 to 6 feet high and up to 10 feet wide, with a compact, mounding form.  This male cultivar is a non-fruiting clone with very dark green, glossy foliage, which turns brilliant red in the fall. Showy panicles of gold flowers do not produce seeds.  A Chicagoland Grows® introduction.

Location of Rhus copallina (Shining sumac) at the Arboretum