Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Some prairie flameleaf sumac leaves get redder than others

with 18 comments

Prairie Flameleaf Sumac Turning Colors 0331

Like the previous photograph, this one is from an undeveloped property off Seton Center Parkway in northwest Austin. Unlike that picture, however, this one shows redder leaves, is from November 13, and was taken with an iPhone 5s. I wasn’t out photographing at the time but had merely stopped by on my way home from something else to check how the prairie flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, was coming along, and that’s why I didn’t have my usual heavy-duty (and just plain heavy) camera equipment with me. I’d say the phone did a commendable job, wouldn’t you? Notice how the fruit clusters darken as they age and dry out.

This is the fourth and penultimate* episode in a miniseries that is carrying prairie flameleaf sumac from the beginning of August through the latter part of November.


* Penultimate means ‘next to the last.’ Some people have misunderstood the word and think it means ‘ultimate, utmost, greatest, best.’

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 30, 2014 at 5:25 AM

18 Responses

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  1. Sweetly delicate autumnal colors…


    November 30, 2014 at 7:40 AM

  2. Our camera phone does a very good job. It is amazing how well they work with such tiny optics.

    Any guesses as to why some sumac are different shades of red-orange?

    Jim in IA

    November 30, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    • One advantage to such a tiny lens is that most things in the photos it takes come out sharp, even with a large aperture. The camera took this picture with an aperture of f/2.2, for example.

      As for color, I’d pondered that too. Because I made several visits and saw this tree at different times, I can say that the color of the changing leaflets progressed—though not all synchronized—through yellow-green to yellow and yellow-orange and orange and orange-red.

      Contrast that versatility of color with what other species do (or rather don’t do). The leaves of cedar elms, for example, turn yellow or yellow orange but don’t progress to red. I’m afraid I don’t know enough botany to explain what I’ve observed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      • This is a pretty well written summary of the variety of colors and why they show up in the fall.

        It seems the amount of light is an important key to the intensity of colors.

        Jim in IA

        November 30, 2014 at 10:09 AM

        • Thanks for the link. I read the article but don’t know enough chemistry to follow all of it. Still, if I interpret correctly, the relative amounts of carotenoids and anthocyanins would determine which colors different species are capable of producing, and even within a given species those proportions can vary based on temperature, light, and probably other factors.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 30, 2014 at 10:26 AM

  3. I have always adored sumac because of the spectrum of color it offers, right down to the fuzzy purple seed heads. Your phone did well, but then it is in the hands of a master!


    November 30, 2014 at 9:26 AM

    • Thanks for your testimonial, Melissa. It’s good to encounter another member of SAS (Sumac Adoration Society) and to hear you’re keeping your membership up to date.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2014 at 9:51 AM

  4. Such gorgeous fall colors…It is what makes this such a special time of year for me.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    November 30, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    • I don’t know how much fall foliage you have in Seattle, but central Texas is too warm for the vast displays I grew up with in New York. Still, on a smaller scale we have look-worthy color here, and that’s what I enjoy making people aware of. The last few weeks here have been better than average for this time of year, so I’m happy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2014 at 7:55 PM

  5. Could this be the ultimate penultimate?


    December 1, 2014 at 2:50 AM

  6. A beautiful photo with its gentle colours and fan-shaped display. It’s always a delight to see red berries, particularly in autumn.

    Mary Mageau

    December 1, 2014 at 3:54 AM

    • I’m accustomed to photographing flameleaf sumac as it fans out in its upper portions and into the sky, but this picture was unique for me because of the colorful fan extending downward.

      I took closer pictures of some flameleaf sumac fruit clusters yesterday afternoon and even found a long and delicate insect on one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 1, 2014 at 8:08 AM

  7. The technology in phones is amazing. I imagine that, at some point, they will be able to do what our large heavy cameras are doing now and possibly more. Chips that can capture a much greater dynamic range and eventually zoom capabilities as well.
    I like how you captured this in the shape of a fan.

    Steve Gingold

    December 1, 2014 at 4:41 PM

    • You and Mary Mageau are fans of the fan here, as am I.

      Yes, the cameras in phones have improved a lot. Will we still be here when cell phone cameras are as good as the fancy ones we use now? Will they ever get that good? I guess the ultimate will be for some future camera to see through our eyes, literally.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 1, 2014 at 4:47 PM

      • I’ve no doubt we will, barring some calamity or catastrophic health event.

        Steve Gingold

        December 1, 2014 at 4:51 PM

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