Sumac (Rhus spp.) plants do quite well in salty areas. These species of shrubs and trees grow in seaside or salt marsh gardens and will tolerate the windy conditions often present in such areas. Although there are several species of sumac, a few of the hardiest make the best additions to the garden.
Sumac belongs to the Anacardiaceae, or cashew family, and is native to temperate and subtropical zones. Native to the northeastern United States, smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is one of the most common types and is considerably tolerant, doing well in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Beware of Rhus vernix or Toxicodendron vernix, which is colloquially known as poison sumac and can cause severe skin and mouth irritation if contacted or swallowed. Sumacs have spectacular fall color, but it is usually much better when they are grown in full sun.
Soil Salt Tolerance
Soil salt can enter the garden via two channels: already existing in the soil by virtue of its nearness to coastal areas, or getting watered in by applications of seawater. The latter can happen when growing in a marshy area that is subjected to tidal influxes of seawater. While sumac can withstand highly salty conditions, you should not grow it anywhere that seawater might submerge it. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), for instance, demonstrates a high soil salt tolerance, both growing in seaside soils and tolerating some salt spray but should be irrigated with fresh water. It is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.
Aerosol Salt Tolerance
Because gardens near the sea or ocean, or near the salty estuaries that wind inland for several miles, often experience high winds, the plants you grow there must be able to withstand not only forceful gusts but the salty spray that such gusts carry into your plant beds. Sumac is a hardy perennial that can tolerate adverse conditions as well as airborne salinity.
Because smooth and staghorn sumac are so salt-tolerant, they make good riparian zone buffers, meaning you can use them as windbreaks along the edge of a garden to keep the breeze down inside of it. Many types of sumac will withstand salty conditions and drought but will not tolerate soggy feet. Do not confuse tolerance of saltwater as willingness to grow submerged in it. Also consider seasonal color: Although plants will grow happily in partial shade, they will not show their fall foliage to best effect.
- Encyclopedia Brittanica: Sumac
- Colorado State University Extension: Salt Tolerance of Various Temperate Zone Ornamental Plants
- Center for Coastal Resources Management: Living Shorelines: Plants for Salt Marshes and Upland Banks
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Rhus Glabra
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Rhus Typhina
- Harvard University: Rhus Trilobata: Worthy Plant Seeks Worthy Name
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