Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

An affirming flame*

with 40 comments

So far in this column you’ve seen two views of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, doing its seasonal thing. Here’s a third one, and the closest of all to a few of the tree’s leaflets. Although some flameleaf sumac leaves in Austin are still turning color in this second week of December, the sky has been mostly gray, so today’s photograph comes from a sunnier November 14 session on Spicewood Springs Rd. near Loop 360. That was the same outing that produced the picture in which yellow was the main color, but here the red has begun to predominate. Note how even the segments of the leaf axis, seen vertically at the right, turn red.

My camera agrees with me that the three quarters of an hour that we (the camera and I) stayed at this site taking pictures was time well spent, not only for me and for the camera (in whose place you can see I presume to speak), but I hope for the sumac as well, for which the passage of time is the most eloquent spokesman.

For more information about Rhus lanceolata, you can visit the websites of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the USDA. And for those interested in the art and craft of photography, the newly added point 17 in About My Techniques is relevant to today’s photograph.


* Today’s title consists of the last three words from W. H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 11, 2011 at 5:22 AM

40 Responses

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  1. beautiful composition–the leaves are very flame-like


    December 11, 2011 at 6:42 AM

  2. The staghorn sumac is one of the handful of trees/shrubs here that provide a colorful leaf-changing show amid the evergreens. Always a favorite.


    December 11, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    • I’m glad you have your colorful sumac too. I wasn’t familiar with that species (which I looked up and found to be Rhus typhina). For all the color these sumacs bring us, they deserve to have a holiday set up for them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2011 at 9:06 AM

  3. I’m just tickled by your name running vertically rather than horizontally on this one. Perhaps you do it more often than I’ve realized, but it seems to reinforce the structure of the photo, which feels very uplifting, indeed!


    December 11, 2011 at 8:41 AM

    • Maybe you’re on to something, and if all store signs could be redone vertically, from bottom to top, we’d uplift the mood of the country.

      Deciding where to put my watermark isn’t always easy. I try to get it out of the way, so that it interferes the least with the image, but sometimes nothing really pleases me and I settle on a place and orientation just to be done with it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2011 at 9:36 AM

  4. Very similar leaf and coloration to our staghorn sumac here in Pennsylvania, one of my favorite plants, and vilified even for the great “lemonade” you can make from it! The leaves put on a brilliant show even in tree-covered PA, and the “staghorns” stay red through the winter.


    December 11, 2011 at 9:59 AM

  5. P.S. Thanks for reading Auden.


    December 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    • It was decades ago that I first read this Auden poem, which, though written in one of the darkest periods of world history, ends on a positive note.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2011 at 10:43 AM

  6. Eloquent words, elegant imagery. What more could a person crave first thing in the morning?


    December 11, 2011 at 11:23 AM

  7. I like the repeating pattern in this photo. It’s a great shot, nicely framed and lit, with your usual eye for detail. Cheers!!


    December 11, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    • Yes, it was the repeating pattern that especially grabbed me. Although I’d photographed flameleaf sumac leaves many times, I’d never noticed this sort of repetitive pattern, so I was happy to be able to bring something new to my pictures of this appealing little tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2011 at 12:56 PM

  8. Such a lovely, graceful photograph of these leaves, which I think, by many, tend to be overlooked.

    Susan Scheid

    December 11, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    • Thank you, Susan. I think you’re right that many people overlook this slender but colorful tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 11, 2011 at 6:36 PM

  9. I’ve been turning my head back and forth a bit, because I would have been tempted to turn the entire picture, so the leaves point upwards like flames.


    December 12, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    • It’s fun to play with pictures that way, though I hope you didn’t get a sore neck. Occasionally I’ve presented a picture in an orientation different from the actual one, but this time I left things oriented the way I found them, even though that makes the leaflets less like real flames.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 12, 2011 at 2:32 PM

  10. An impressive colour indeed, and impressively well photographed!

    Journey Photographic

    December 13, 2011 at 6:39 AM

  11. Colours, composition, they all fascinated me again… Thank you, with my love, nia


    December 16, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    • It’s one of my recent favorites. I’ve been photographing flameleaf sumacs for several years, so I’m always on the lookout for a new way to portray them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2011 at 11:30 AM

  12. Whoa! flame leaves!! Great colors 🙂


    December 16, 2011 at 12:16 PM

  13. The color grabs me, but the leaf details hold my attention. I enjoy how the leaves meet the stem with just a hint of the leaves in the background. There’s a glorious rhythm there!

    And thanks for introducing me to this Auden poem. I’ve quoted his work on my blog because I’m fond of his imagery, but hadn’t read this one before. It’s a gem and most of it applies to our current world as it did in 1939.

    Douglas Peterson

    December 18, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    • Thanks for pointing out the rhythm in the way the leaflets meet the stem with a hint of more leaflets in the background.

      It’s interesting that you’ve quoted Auden too. I’m not all that familiar with his work, but I’ve known the September 1 poem for ages. We nature photographers are almost by definition affirming flames.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2011 at 2:41 PM

  14. […] photograph, so I’ve used an image from the November 14 session that also produced pictures of flameleaf sumac turning colors. This is what a four-nerve daisy flower head looks like when it’s part-way open, before the […]

  15. […] What most people think about when they hear the term “fall color” is maples, oaks, flameleaf sumacs, cedar elms and various other trees, but the often lowly though much-scorned and much-feared poison […]

  16. […] happy that now I can tell you not only about fall color in central Texas, most reliably seen in our flameleaf sumacs, but also about the winter color provided, even if on a small scale this year, by Texas red […]

  17. […] whose colorful autumn leaves featured prominently in several posts last year, particularly one on December 11. As is characteristic of the sumacs, the plants’ flowers are tiny; in this species […]

  18. […] a three-part look at the species that would show stages earlier than the best-known one in which its leaves turn bright colors. Here, from August 9 of this year on the western edge of my Great Hills neighborhood, is a slightly […]

  19. We have a few sumac here with winged composite leaves. I have one that came up and through my fence this summer. I am leaving it be for the moment. I want seeds from it so I can plant it in a spot where it has room to spread. Apparently they do. I hope I don’t come to regret this decision because I love their fall color!
    ~ Lynda


    September 26, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    • I’ve seen thickets of the flameleaf sumac species that we have in Austin, and they look great when their leaves turn color. How much would be too much for your property remains to be seen, but you could cut them back if they get out of hand. Sounds to me like it’s worth a try.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      • I live on an acre here. So long as their roots aren’t too aggressive, I would love to let it rip, but just not through the fence-line. 😉


        September 26, 2012 at 11:07 AM

  20. Oh, I love this one. Very inspiring. 🙂


    December 20, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    • I was inspired, too. This was one of my favorite fall pictures last year because, in addition to its intrinsic appeal, it was different from any picture of flameleaf sumac I’d taken in earlier years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 20, 2012 at 4:49 PM

  21. […] Rd. from the library’s parking lot I saw some red that from a distance I thought might be the changing foliage of a flameleaf sumac, but Eve said she thought it was possumhaw “berries.” When I crossed the street to […]

  22. […] my other blog I’ve occasionally showed pictures of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, a small tree whose compound leaves turn yellow, orange, and red in the fall. The […]

  23. I knew I recognized the photo gracing the front cover of this month’s NPSOT newsletter. Very nice to see it again, in a new context. While I was looking for it, I was reminded again what a really great photographer you are. It’s fun to find you in places other than your blog, and to know that others are appreciating your work, too.


    September 6, 2016 at 7:23 PM

    • Thanks, Linda. I’m impressed with your remembering this photograph. I haven’t received my printed copy of NPSOT News yet but the editor sent me a pdf proof a couple of weeks ago. Just this morning I ordered some photo prints on aluminum and this was one of the images I chose. I won’t have had as many pictures or articles in magazines this year as in some other recent years, but I do keep submitting things occasionally.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2016 at 9:04 PM

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