Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

An expected and an unexpected red

with 11 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Click for greater clarity.

You’ve seen plenty of pictures of flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, in these pages, but today marks the first appearance of evergreen sumac, Rhus virens. This shrub’s gooey little drupes are supposed to be red, which they are here, but as an evergreen the plant’s shiny leaflets are supposed to stay green, which they haven’t here. Something—probably a few freezing nights in mid-January—affected this bush and some near it, most of whose leaves were turning the dark brownish red you see in the photograph. The plant may have been stressed, but I was taken with the unexpected color. The date was January 23, and the location was Loop 360 near Bluffstone Dr. in northwest Austin.

You can read more about (mostly) evergreen sumac at the Texas A & M University website. To see the places in the American Southwest where this species grows, you can check the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 2, 2013 at 6:16 AM

11 Responses

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  1. This is a nice find for you. The color of the leaves is very pretty. It is odd how plants are changing. I don’t know the evergreen sumac and have no idea if it grows in my county. I am about 30 miles or so east of the beginning of the hill country. The hills and vegetation gradually become different the further west and south,


    February 2, 2013 at 6:47 AM

    • I’ve just added a link at the end of the post. If you follow that link you can click Texas on the US map and you’ll get a state map showing the counties where evergreen sumac has been reported. Click that Texas map and you’ll get a larger one with a name on each county. It looks like evergreen sumac might not be far from you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2013 at 9:04 AM

  2. The colors look like Fall!


    February 2, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    • They do, and you’re entitled to an extension—at least an honorary one—of the seasons. I’m beginning to look the other way, too, toward the return of wildflowers. I’ve already noticed bits of early green on the ground in some places.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2013 at 10:10 AM

  3. reminded me of coffee beans. 🙂


    February 2, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    • I ground some coffee beans half an hour ago, but I confess I wasn’t reminded of the sumac. Speaking of beverages, though, people have used the little fruits of evergreen sumac to make sumac-ade. A local member of the Native Plant Society of Texas made some about a decade ago, and it was good.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2013 at 10:24 AM

  4. Sporting fall colors becomes it! BTW, On the Texas A&M site it was interesting to read that,

    “The Comanche Indians mixed its sun-cured leaves with tobacco for smoking, and it was also used as a remedy for asthma.”

    When I think of Asthma I don’t think of smoking. Perhaps they used it in some other way such as a tincture or tea.


    February 2, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    • I’d stopped thinking about leaf color that far into January, so it was a welcome surprise.

      I wonder if there’s a chemical in the leaves of this species that acts to alleviate asthma. You could well be right that the Comanches made a tincture for that purpose, rather than smoking the leaves. On the other hand, smoke would get to the affected area without delay, even though that might seem like fighting fire with fire.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2013 at 11:25 AM

  5. The leathery quality of the leaves is apparent even with the color change. They don’t look withered at all, which does support the notion of cold-induced change. I saw on the A&M site that they can be “tinged” with maroon or yellow – I should say so!

    Too bad they don’t appear to grow in College Station. There’s never too much maroon there!


    February 2, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    • I also noticed the reference to “tinged,” and I assumed that the evergreen sumacs in my neighborhood must have signed up for a short course in advanced tinging. Whether they commuted to College Station to take that course at Texas A & M, with its official colors of maroon and white, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2013 at 4:09 PM

  6. […] one of the discolored evergreen sumacs, Rhus virens, that you saw yesterday, I was lucky to get a picture of a lacewing that stayed put […]

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