|SUMAC FEMALE FLOWER SPIKE, YELLOW; LAST YEAR'S BERRIES, RED...|
|FEMALE FLOWER SPIKE, TURNS TO PINK AFTER FERTILIZATION...|
|MALE SUMAC FLOWER|
Monday, 8:00 AM. 60 degrees F at the ferry dock, 56 on the back porch. Wind variable and calm, the humidity 84%. The sky is filling with dark clouds. The barometer is falling, now at 30.04". Today will be partly cloudy with highs around 80 and chances of a thunderstorm. Temperatures will then drop into the seventies for the coming week, with mixed skies and chances of rain on the weekend.
The staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina, in the Cashew Family (Anacardiaceae) is a large shrub or small tree native to rocky places and poor soil throughout much of North America. It is very aggressive and can’t be used in small landscapes but it is beautiful in all seasons in its natural habitat. Smooth sumac, R. glabra, is very similar.
The bark and berries of both staghorn and smooth sumac have been much used in tanning and dyeing, and the bark and berries often used in herbal medicine for their astringent qualities (similar uses in both European and American Indian folk medicine). The berries make a pleasant cold tea, and have been used to flavor meats. Male and female flowers are borne on different plants, so some shrubs bear the fuzzy red fruits and some do not. Sumac plants have the unusual ability to change themselves from male to female, or vice-versa. I know that this occurs but have found no information as to how or why. Both male and female flowers are yellow at first, the female then turning pink, and finally red when its berries are ripe. The male flowers disintegrate when they are done dispensing pollen.
The staghorn sumac and the smooth sumac often hybridize. In general the smooth sumac is a more southern, the staghorn a more northern, species. The genus Rhus also contains poison ivy, R. radicans, and poison sumac, R vernix. The former is mostly a climbing vine and the later only grows in swamps, so neither is very likely to be confused with the sumacs, which form large clones on dry and rocky hillsides and similar locations. As far as I know R. typhina and R.glabra are not at all poisonous, and the ripe berries have a rather pleasant, lemony taste in one's mouth although I probably wouldn't swallow the hard little nutlets. A number of sumac species are used to manufacture fine varnishes, and the yellow wood for dye.
Sumacs have wonderful fall foliage colors; brilliant pinks, oranges, yellows and reds, and are worth having in the landscape for that reason alone, but they are very aggressive and grow very large and have to be used with care, and are best used in the large, naturalized landscape.
Sumac flowers, both male and female, have been coloring up for well over a week and are right about on time, according to my records.