Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sumacs turning red

with 19 comments

Sumacs Turning Red 8448

On November 8th, along Highway 23 a little south of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I found a row of sumacs putting on their usual bright display of fall foliage. As we traveled I saw these low sumacs, often only several feet tall, in many places in western Arkansas and far eastern Oklahoma, but I’m afraid I don’t know which species of Rhus they are. Outside of central Texas I’m a stranger in a strange land, botanically speaking. In any case, in addition to the brilliance of these roadside sumacs in their own right, I liked the contrast they made with the larger, darker, and mostly leafless trees beyond them.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that point 12 in About My Techniques is especially relevant to this photograph.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 26, 2013 at 6:05 AM

19 Responses

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  1. In eastern Kansas and on the Konza Prairie, I learned that it’s smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) that predominates, so perhaps this is the same. The plant profile shows that it could be, and it certainly looks like the sumac I encountered.

    That’s speculation, of course. What’s fact is that you’ve beautifully captured the glow of sumac – one of my autumn favorites.


    November 26, 2013 at 6:52 AM

    • Thanks for providing that information. You’re probably right that what I photographed here was Rhus glabra, a species I’ve heard of and that has a wide distribution across North America, and I probably should have mentioned that as a possibility. What gave me pause is that I saw a fair amount of variation in the Rhus I saw, especially in terms of changing leaf color. The sumac shown here looks a lot like the Rhus lanceolata in Austin, but other sumacs that I saw had leaves that turned more of a purplish red, and I don’t know whether that’s normal variation within the same species or a sign of different species. By whatever (scientific) name, a sumac is a sumac is a sumac, and colorful fall foliage is a given.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2013 at 8:09 AM

      • R. lanceolata (prairie flameleaf sumac) grows in southern OK and central to west TX. The leaves are a little narrower than R. glabra. There is another sumac that grows in the eastern half of the US (including Dallas eastward — R. copallina. You can distinguish both of these from the smooth sumac by the “wings” on the stems between the leaves. Smooth sumac does not have the wings. All sumacs (including the notorious poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac — all of which are Rhus species) have outstanding fall color. The yellow autumn sun on a thicket of sumac is a feast of glowing red/orange/yellow, and yes, purplish worthy of pulling the car over and admiring. I wish I had room in my Dallas yard for a small thicket area of R. copallina.


        November 26, 2013 at 8:39 AM

        • Thanks for all your differentiation information, Kathryn. I just took a close look at a larger version of the image and didn’t see any “wings,” so it seems Shoreacres was right in proposing Rhus glabra.

          The “wings” on the leaf stems in Rhus lanceolata are a feature I’ve enjoyed seeing, and they are as likely to turn colors as the leaflets themselves. Sometimes I see leaves in which all the leaflets have fallen off but the wings remain and form what you might imagine as a portion of a colorful necklace.

          Maybe after the glowing description you’ve given you can talk yourself into making room for one sumac in your yard. Failing that, you might find a bit of undeveloped land near you and plant some sumacs there that you can easily visit.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 26, 2013 at 9:11 AM

  2. Sumac is abundant in Iowa and Illinois. I like their fall colors. I didn’t know sumac was a cooking spice. It shouldn’t surprise me.

    Jim in IA

    November 26, 2013 at 7:08 AM

    • It’s good of you to bring that up. I’ve never (knowingly) eaten anything seasoned with sumac, but I drank some sumac-ade once or twice when members of the Austin chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas made some and brought it to a meeting.

      While we don’t much use sumac as a spice in the United States, other cultures do. Readers who want to learn a little more can read articles at:



      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2013 at 8:18 AM

      • Sumac berries are an important ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking.


        November 26, 2013 at 8:41 AM

        • So I’m hearing. I hadn’t been aware of (or had forgotten about) the use of sumac as a seasoning, but as I mentioned to Jim in replying to his comment, I’ve drunk sumac-ade. In fact I’ve had two kinds, made from the fruit of Rhus lanceolata and Rhus virens.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 26, 2013 at 9:25 AM

  3. Glad that you are getting more autumn hues. Happy Thanksgiving to your family and you.


    November 26, 2013 at 7:52 AM

  4. That certainly is some intense red, Steve. Much nicer than the sumac reds we had here this year.

    Steve Gingold

    November 26, 2013 at 5:56 PM

    • You may have had a sub-par year for sumacs, but I imagine you had some other kinds of gorgeous foliage, no?

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2013 at 8:51 PM

      • Not in the immediate vicinity although compared to areas that do not get colorful foliage it may be a hollow complaint. Other parts of New England had some nice showings like Northern Vermont and New Hampshire but less so in Massachusetts.

        Steve Gingold

        November 27, 2013 at 3:16 AM

  5. Les couleurs du Sumac sont resplendissantes en automne et leurs fruits tout aussi beaux en été.
    J’en avais beaucoup en Haute Savoie une région de l’est de la France, où j’habitais avant.. et ça se reproduit à une vitesse.. si on a le malheur de couper une branche!
    belle journée Steve


    November 27, 2013 at 4:47 AM

    • Tu dois regretter tes sumacs, n’est-ce pas, même s’ils se reproduisaient à grande vitesse.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 27, 2013 at 7:30 AM

  6. vibrant


    November 27, 2013 at 5:57 PM

  7. Beautifuly lit. We have a couple of these in our garden but they are a nightmare because of the way they throw out runners underground.


    November 28, 2013 at 2:26 AM

    • I didn’t know that they throw out underground runners, but from time to time on the prairie I’ve seen a tight group of the kind of sumac we have in Austin that almost looks like it’s one organism.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2013 at 7:04 AM

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