Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Rhus copallinum

with 22 comments

Rhus copallina New Leaves 1989

Here’s Rhus copallinum, known as winged sumac, shining sumac, flameleaf sumac, mountain sumac, and dwarf sumac. The species name is taken from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word copalli, meaning ‘resin,’ so the coiner of the scientific name described this kind of sumac as resinous. I’d read about Rhus copallinum and might have seen some in Arkansas last year, but it was good to finally find this species only an hour east of home.

I’ve long been fascinated by the way the rachis (central axis) of each compound leaf* tends to curve in the species of flameleaf sumac I’m familiar with from Austin, and that curving is apparent in this genus-mate as well. Many of you may be familiar with Rhus copallinum because it grows throughout most of the eastern and central United States, as you can confirm on the state-clickable USDA map for this species.

Like the last few photographs, today’s comes from an April 27th field trip to Bastrop State Park led by botanist Bill Carr.


* In common parlance people might say that this photograph shows a couple of dozen whole or partial leaves, but botanists would disagree and say the photograph shows parts of only three leaves, but each of those leaves is compound, meaning that it is made up of elements called leaflets. For example, in the compound leaf that’s front-most in the photo we can count 13 leaflets, and there might have been some more below the bottom border of the picture. For the leaf that curves along the right edge of the photograph, we can count 11 leaflets.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2014 at 6:00 AM

22 Responses

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  1. Very nice and soft colours.


    June 13, 2014 at 6:49 AM

    • The softness was once again a consequence of the cloudy sky that morning, but I found that it worked well here, Bente.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 13, 2014 at 7:09 AM

  2. Nice illustration of the leaf patterns and explanation of compound leaves. Not a fan of sumac…at least not the stuff in my yard. There really is no way short of agent orange or a backhoe to get rid of the stuff.

    Steve Gingold

    June 13, 2014 at 7:10 AM

  3. I like the contrast between the younger and more developed leaflets, as well as the horizontal/vertical contrast they present. And that curved stem is great. I tried to visualize the photo with both of the background stems perfectly vertical, and decided it wouldn’t have been nearly so interesting.


    June 13, 2014 at 7:22 AM

    • I’m tempted to say, outdoing Frost by one:

      Three rachises curved in the woods, and I—
      I liked the one most curving by,
      And that has made all the difference

      to the feel of this photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 13, 2014 at 7:31 AM

  4. We have many sumac patches around here. They turn a deep red in the fall. They also seem to be edible and medicinal according to this person. http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Sumac.html

    Jim in IA

    June 13, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    • The main food-type uses I know are the ones Steve Gingold provided a link for: people have made sumac-ade from the clusters of little fruits produced by these trees, and in the Middle East sumac leaves are used as a seasoning. The article you linked to is the first I’ve seen that says the shoots are edible (after you peel them).

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 13, 2014 at 12:05 PM

  5. A subtle study in pastels … quite pleasing. D

    Pairodox Farm

    June 13, 2014 at 8:51 AM

  6. I also love the softness and coloring that you captured in this photo. Very, very nice!


    June 13, 2014 at 4:38 PM

  7. This is a beautiful shot, Steve.


    June 13, 2014 at 11:49 PM

    • Hi, Kerry. I was thinking of you the other day, and now here you are. I can count on you to appreciate the soft subtlety of this image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2014 at 6:18 AM

  8. Now how do you write the last information as a fraction? I feel there is something mathematical in all that compounding and parts of wholes.


    June 14, 2014 at 6:13 AM

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