It grows to 3-10 m tall, and has alternate, pinnately compound leaves 25-55 cm long, each with 9-31 serrate leaflets 6-11 cm long . The leaf petioles and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs.
The fruit of staghorn sumac is one of the most identifiable characteristics, forming dense clusters of small red drupes at the terminal end of the branches ; the clusters are conic, 10-20 cm long and 4-6 cm broad at the base. The plant flowers from May to July and fruit ripens from June to September. The foliage turns a brilliant red in autumn. The fruit has been known to last through winter and into spring.
Staghorn sumac spreads using its seeds, and by spreading rhizomes. This makes it so the tree forms colonies, with the oldest plants in the center, and the younger plants radiating out . It grows quite aggressively.
The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade . The leaves and berries of staghorn sumac have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes . This practice continues to a small degree to this day .
All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness. Harvest the leaves in the summer and the bark all year round.