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Tuesday - May 07, 2013

From: Dodge City, KS
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Disappointing Fall color from sumac in Dodge City, KS
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We have had a fragrant sumac bush growing in our front yard (faces south) for several years. While it is healthy and growing well, we are always disappointed in its lack of bright fall foliage. It displays only patchy dark red leaves in autumn, and we had hoped it would turn some combination of orange, yellow and red. Any suggestions for how to coax it into putting on a bright and beautiful fall show? Thank you!


Did you know that one of the common names for Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac) is "Polecat Bush"? We guess that the fragrance is in the nose of the smeller. Anyway, we found 3 pictures in our Image Gallery of that plant in its fall plumage, see the pictures below from our Image Gallery. So, we can understand your wishing to have a better show of color from your plant. What we don't know is exactly why it does not.

This USDA Plant Profile Map shows that Fragrant sumac does, indeed, grow natively in Ford County, Kansas, so we can't use the excuse that it is intolerant of the climate or soils. We will search a little further for an explanation. We looked at all the Internet sources we could find, including this set of Images from Google.

We found an article from the Missouri Botanic Garden on Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low" which is a cultivar of Rhus aromatica. Here is an exerpt from that article:

"This fragrant sumac cultivar is a dense, low-growing, rambling shrub which spreads by root suckers and typically grows only to 1-2' tall but spreads to 8' wide. Trifoliate, medium green leaves turn attractive shades of orange and red in autumn."

Is it possible that it is that cultivar that you have seen that led you to believe your shrub should expect red and orange leaves in the Fall?

Beyond that, about all we can do is take a closer look at the growing conditions from our webpage on this plant, and see if you have comparable growing conditions. Follow this plant link, Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac) to see for yourself if you have similar water available, soils, etc.

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Dry, rocky soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam Clay, Rocky, Caliche type, Limestone-based
Conditions Comments: In spring, fragrant sumac flowers appear before the foliage. This shrub turns fall colors of red, yellow and orange. The flower is a nectar source for adult butterflies. Fragrant sumac colonizes to form thickets and looks best when planted en mass or in drift-like plantings as it occurs in nature. It is fast growing, generally pest and disease-free, and drought-tolerant. Colonies are often single-sexed, formed from a single, suckering parent. Only female plants produce flowers and berries"

If that still doesn't answer your question, we suggest you learn to love dark red leaves; they sound lovely to us.


From the Image Gallery

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

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