A deciduous shrub to small tree in the Cashew family. It grows to 3–10 m tall, and has alternate, 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. Staghorn sumac is dioecious, and large clumps can form with either male or female plants. 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.
Staghorn sumac grows in gardens, lawns, the edges of forests, and wasteland. It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in dry and poor soil on which other plants cannot survive. Is grown in gardens as an ornamental plant.
The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade. This should not be done with the related plant, poison sumac, which gets white berries and causes severe rashes.