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The Staghorn Sumach


Rhus hirta, Sudw.

The staghorn sumach is named for the densely hairy, forking branchlets, which look much like the horns of a stag "in the velvet." The foliage and fruit are also densely clothed with stiff pale hairs, usually red or bright yellow.

The leaves reach two feet in length, with twenty or thirty oblong, often sickle-shaped leaflets, set opposite on the stem, and terminating in a single odd leaflet. Bright yellow-green until half grown, dark green and dull above when mature, often nearly white on the under surface, these leaves turn in autumn to bright scarlet, shading into purple, crimson, and orange. No sunset was ever more changeful and glorious than a patch of staghorn sumach that covers the ugliness of a railroad siding in October. After the leaves have fallen, the dull red fuzzy fruits per sist, offering food to belated bird migrants and gradually fading to browns before spring.

The maximum height of this largest of northern sumachs is thirty-five feet. The wood of such large speci mens is sometimes used for walking-sticks and for tabou rets and such fancy work as inlaying. Coarse, soft, and brittle, it is satiny when polished, and attractively streaked with orange and green. The young shoots are cut and

their pith contents removed to make pipes for drawing maple sap from the trees in sugaring time.

But the best use of the tree is for ornamental planting. In summer, the ugliness of the most unsightly bank is covered where this tree is allowed to run wild and throw up its root suckers unchecked. The mass effect of its fern like foliage in spring is superb, when the green is lightened by the fine clusters of pink blossoms. No tree carries its autumn foliage longer nor blazes with greater splendor in the soft sunshine of the late year. The hairy staghorn branches, bared of leaves, hold aloft their fruits like lighted candelabra far into the waning winter. For screens and border shrubs this sumach may become objectionable, by reason of its habit of spreading by suckers as well as seed.

Its choice of situations is broken uplands and dry, gravelly banks. Its range extends from New Brunswick to Minnesota and southward through the Northern states, and along the mountains to the Gulf states. In cultiva tion, it is found in the Middle West and on the Atlantic seaboard, and is a favorite in central and northern Europe.

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