Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Prairie flameleaf sumac and clouds

with 37 comments

On December 1st last year we walked around a good-sized pond in Cedar Park, a contiguous suburb north of Austin. In one area I spent a little time photographing the colorful leaves of some prairie flameleaf sumac trees, Rhus lanceolata. How about those clouds? And how about this minimalist view of some backlit leaflets?

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 1, 2018 at 4:35 AM

37 Responses

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  1. Have enjoyed your Canadian photographs so much! And grackles. Now sumac. Just love waking each morning to look at the world through your lenses!

    Marilyn L. Moll

    February 1, 2018 at 6:01 AM

    • Thanks for letting me know, Marilyn. Canada was such a great trip and provided so many photographs that I’m still showing some of them five months later. Likewise for the trip to New Zealand, more pictures from which will appear here this month on their one-year anniversaries. Stay tuned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 1, 2018 at 8:20 AM

  2. “Prairie Flameleaf” isn’t an oversell, that’s a great color

    Robert Parker

    February 1, 2018 at 7:45 AM

  3. Is this the same sumac that makes you itch with contact dermatitis? Like poison ivy, it sure makes for a beautiful leaf without the chlorophyll green.


    February 1, 2018 at 8:50 AM

    • Poison ivy used to be classified as Rhus toxicodendron, putting it in the same genus as the sumacs (it’s now Toxicodendron radicans). I’ve not heard of people getting contact dermatitis from the regular sumacs, of which there are various species. I did a little searching, and all the mentions of contact dermatitis were in connection to the poison group in the family (poison ivy, oak, sumac).

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 1, 2018 at 9:12 AM

      • Don’t they look similar? I’m not sure I could even ID a ‘poison’ sumac from a not poison one, would avoid both like the plague (I break out horribly with ivy contact).


        February 1, 2018 at 12:39 PM

        • I’ve never seen poison sumac, Toxicodendron vernix. Fortunately for you, the USDA map at


          shows it in Texas in only a few far eastern counties.

          The common name poison oak corresponds to three species of Toxicodendron: T. pubescens; T. diversilobum; and even T. radicans, which I never call anything other than poison ivy. I’ve noticed that people who move to Texas from other states sometimes see what I call poison ivy and refer to it as poison oak. The non-scientific names are confused and confusing.

          Sorry to hear you break out terribly from contact with poison ivy. I’ve never had a reaction, even from the few instances where I’ve barely brushed against the plant. Maybe I’m one of the lucky people who are immune. Maybe not, so I never push my luck.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 1, 2018 at 4:31 PM

        • Here are pictures of poison sumac:


          Steve Schwartzman

          February 1, 2018 at 4:35 PM

          • What I must be seeing out here is flame leaf sumac then. I’ll feel better about trudging through the brush where I think I see sumac, chasing birds. It’s not the snakes I fear but the chiggers and itchy plants …


            February 1, 2018 at 7:13 PM

    • There is a poison sumac that grows in the bog here. Totally different plant but there are similarities.


      February 15, 2018 at 9:36 AM

  4. How lovingly you see nature! Thanks.

    Margie Roe

    February 1, 2018 at 9:09 AM

  5. Lovely colours Steve. The first photo looks like a flock of colourful parrots have landed in the trees.


    February 1, 2018 at 10:12 AM

    • You have a good imagination. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of anyone seeing flameleaf sumac leaves as parrots.

      Coincidentally, Austin is home to a colony of monk parakeets descended from birds that escaped captivity here decades ago:


      Steve Schwartzman

      February 1, 2018 at 10:38 AM

  6. That lovely, even distribution of berries and leaves in the first photo makes it very appealing. I like the way the clouds seem to be snagging on the berries, and the way the other tree shines through. Sometimes, fewer leaves is just what’s needed to add that special something to an image.


    February 1, 2018 at 10:19 PM

    • Sweet are the uses of adversity, as someone said. I was out hunting for the usual dense brightness of red, orange, and yellow that flameleaf sumac delights in putting on each fall. I didn’t find it. As you’ve pointed out, this sparser display has an advantage of greater transparency that singles out the many clusters of fruit, especially the upper ones that line up across the cloud.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2018 at 6:53 AM

  7. That is one of the many plants I observed in Oklahoma!


    February 1, 2018 at 11:50 PM

    • On my brief stays in Oklahoma, and online, I’ve noticed that it shares a lot of species with Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2018 at 6:59 AM

      • It is very different from California, where some plants have very small and isolated ranges confined by terrain. Some plants in Oklahoma and Texas have huge ranges that extend into many states. The Eastern red cedar literally grows all over the East, all the way to the coast. The blackjack oak also has a huge range extending to Eastern states.


        February 2, 2018 at 10:29 PM

        • Right. And some of our wildflowers have a range that stretches way up into the Great Plains. I’ve long puzzled over the fact that some species have a very small range while others cover vast territories. We have our share of endemics in Texas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 2, 2018 at 10:43 PM

          • Small ranges in California are environmental. There are so many different climate zones, and so many different little valleys and so many different soil types. There is just so much variety. Some types of yucca live only on a particular slope of a particular mountain range and a particular elevation and distance from the ocean. If they try to grow on the valley floor, they might rot. Damp weather near the coast may cause them to rot. They may not want to venture down the other side of the mountain range because the exposure is different over there. There are just so many reasons why plants do not spread farther than they do.


            February 2, 2018 at 11:01 PM

            • I couldn’t help noticing those little climate zones in California. We stayed in San Ramon and went out to various places during the week we were there. Sometimes we’d drive an hour away, for example to the Armstrong Redwoods, and as we went the weather would change from sunny to rainy.

              Steve Schwartzman

              February 3, 2018 at 7:59 AM

  8. […] December 1st last year, upon approaching a prairie flameleaf sumac tree (Rhus lanceolata) in Cedar Park to photograph its fall foliage, I noticed that one bunch of […]

  9. There’s nothing like a pop of red this time of year!! Well done!


    February 3, 2018 at 10:03 AM

  10. Yes indeed, how about those clouds! That leaf looks lovely against the sky Steve


    February 5, 2018 at 1:25 AM

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