Fragrant Sumac Redeems Itself In My Garden

I sometimes wonder if the neighbors think I’m growing poison ivy on the side of my house. “Leaves of three, let it be.”

This is Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-low’, Fragrant Sumac. It has leaves of three that turn this lovely red color in the fall, just like poison ivy.

But it isn’t poison ivy, it is Fragrant Sumac, and this particular variety only grows about two feet tall, but spreads nicely. I used to be ambivalent about it. I bought it because I wanted a nice plant in the spot where it is, that wouldn’t get too tall, and this is what the garden center had.

The garden designer would like me to move it to another spot, where she thinks I will like it better. At first, I didn’t want to because this is far from a favorite plant of mine.

But then it turned all pretty and red this fall, so I’m going to move it after all, to the other side of the house.

Fragrant Sumac is a member of the Cashew family, Anacardiaceae, along with cashews, pistachios (which I love), and poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, which used to be called Rhus radicans, until it got kicked out of the Rhus genus for bad behavior.

Another good thing about Fragrant Sumac is it is a native plant. I know the birds like it to hide in and amongst those branches. The birds might also like to eat the fruit of the fragrant sumac, which is technically called a drupe, but I’ve never seen fruit on the one I have. This is probably because R. aromatica is dioecious, with female and male flowers on separate plants. I suspect this one is a female. In fact, I wonder if all of the ‘Gro-low’ Fragrant Sumacs are females. If asexually propagated, I would assume that to be the case.

But even with insignificant looking flowers and no fruit, it is still worth keeping around for that fall foliage.


Anonymous said…
What a pretty thing it is, Carol. I agree, it looks like poison ivy. Your neighbors must think plenty of strange wait, that is not very nice. But have they seen your hoe collection? Anyway, the sumacs have some of the best fall color around. We notice the ones along the highways, a relative of this I assume? They are the most brilliant bring red ever, a good color for the four season gardener. :-)
Anonymous said…
bring should be bright. That's what I get for trying to be funny.
It is very pretty. We have it all over Oklahoma as a native, and I love it when fragrant sumac and the other types of sumac turn such a lovely red in fall.~~Dee
Laurrie said…
There is a beautiful swath of Grow Low sumac on a slope at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. Very unassuming, just a low groundcover, but doing a great job of coverage. And it's shiny green in summer, brilliant deep red in fall. Very attractive. I just planted four little Grow Lows this summer to cover some bare ground, but they are too young for any fall color (or fruits!) yet.
Layanee said…
Fall color would not be enough for me...the birds, well that might do it. Very pretty color and off on the side where the birds can love it and it screams at you in autumn, it just might be perfect.
Gail said…
Carol, I grow this plant and love it~In the right spot it's a marvelous ground cover~I think the leaf shape is just different enough to not look like PI, but interesting in summer and spectacular when massed in the fall. gail
Kat White said…
That is a lovely shade of red. Having never seen it before, I would have avoided it thinking it to be poison ivy. Exactly what is fragrant about it? The leaves or the flowers?
Having just planted this, I was surprised at how all aspects of the plant was fragrant from its roots to its leaves.
How could you not love it? Glossy green leaves all summer, then that firey red in fall. I love all the sumacs, but this seems to be the best one for small gardens.
Bom said…
What does it smell like?
"Kicked out for bad behavior" :-D
Kathy said…
We have plenty of sumac growing wild around here with that brilliant fall color, but they aren't low growing. I don't know what species they are.
Anonymous said…
The neighbor (renting of course) behind me has both sumac and poison ivy growing and glowing red. It is gorgeous in fall, but not very nice any other time. My landscaper friend tried to eliminate it once but they both grew back, and now the neighbors have pitbulls to guard the yard. No going in there with roundup anymore.
I have had this plant for a long time and love it when I am not thinking it looks too much like poison ivy. Thanks for highlighting it for its fall color.
LindaCTG said…
This was one of my first native plants and I love it! I didn't know about the lower growing one, though so thanks for that tip! It's neat that it grows for you. Mine doesn't turn red like that, though. Pooh.
I know of a few Rhus plants, but never heard of the Fragrant Sumac. Thank you for an interesting post! The red fall color is quite stunning and a nice thing to enjoy this time of year for sure!