Salem Maritime National Historic Site
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  • Staghorn Sumac

    Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)

    Never consume wild plants unless you’re absolutely sure it’s safe to do so. Use a reliable plant identification guide when looking for edible plants.  

    Please do not pick any plants at Saugus Iron Works. It is illegal to pick or collect plants or plant material without a permit at all National Park Service sites.  

    Staghorn sumac compound leaf

    Audio Transcript

    Staghorn sumac is a small, deciduous tree that produces big clusters of red berries. Deciduous trees loose their leaves each year, usually in autumn. But the staghorn sumac’s berries may stay on the plant all winter and through the spring. And during the winter, when most plants aren’t producing food, the sumac’s berries are a welcome gift of sugar and carbohydrates for primary consumers on the Nature Trail. 

    So far we’ve explored the different roles plants, animals, and fungi play in an ecosystem. But how do humans fit into a food chain? 

    Staghorn sumac berries are a popular plant item harvested by humans, particularly for making tea. Ripe berries can be steeped in water and produce a tart tea, similar to lemonade. When we interact with plants by consuming berries – like staghorn sumac berries or blackberries, raspberries, or grapes – we're acting as primary consumers in the food chain.  

    Staghorn sumac trees are commonly found in big clusters on the edge of forests. But you many find them on roadsides or in poor soil where other trees cant grow. You can identify staghorn sumac by its compound leaves, which may have 10 to 30 leaflets. Or by observing its forked branches, that somewhat resemble antlers. That, along with its branches velvety texture, earned it the name – “stag's horn” sumac.