Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Closer looks at flameleaf sumac’s colorful fall foliage

with 32 comments

⇧ Arterial 8, November 8

⇧ Seton Center Drive, November 15

⇧ Cedar Park, November 18

Rhus lanceolata is the most colorful of the three native sumacs in the Austin area.
Backlighting enhanced those colors in all three pictures.

In the relevant quotation department we have this interchange from Albert Camus’s 1944 play Le malentendu, The Misunderstanding:

Martha: Qu’est-ce que l’automne?
Jan: Un deuxième printemps, où toutes les feuilles sont comme des fleurs.

Martha: “What is autumn?”
Jan: A second spring, when all the leaves are like flowers.

Versions floating around on the Internet glom the question and answer together into a single declarative sentence. Here you get no glomming, only the original.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 24, 2020 at 4:26 AM

32 Responses

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  1. Gorgeous contrasts again with the blue. Thank you for bringing cheer to my day. And I have that quote somewhere on my flower blog. Unfortunately even the second spring has ended here.


    November 24, 2020 at 5:21 AM

    • Flameleaf sumac leaves against a clear blue sky: that’s one of my favorite color combinations, and I’ve taken dozens of pictures showing that this season. Still, in these three views I put in a different kind of middle picture to offer not comic relief but sky-blue relief. In northern latitudes even the second spring has already and unfortunately faded, as you said; at least that carries you closer to the next real spring. Austin, always milder than Cornwall, still clings to autumn; on some recent days you’d have said it clings to summer, so warm have temperatures been.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 7:05 AM

  2. Sumac provides one of the brightest displays of color in the landscape this time of year. We don’t have a lot of it here on our property, but the Washita river bottom does. I have noted in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge, just southwest of here, the sumac tends to turn color much earlier in the autumn than it does here. Perhaps it is a different type of sumac, or I could receive better sun exposure in the open areas, where along the river it would be shaded more. I need to discover what kind of sumac grows here and if it would be safe to forage for the fawns we raise.


    November 24, 2020 at 7:05 AM

    • Then imagine your fawns eating that sumac and turning yellow, orange, and red in the early fall; wouldn’t that be a sight? Coming back to reality, from the maps as http://bonap.net/Napa/TaxonMaps/Genus/County/Rhus it seems Rhus glabra and Rhus copallinum are the two most common species in Oklahoma that look like Rhus lanceolata (Rhus aromatica grows in Oklahoma too but looks different).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 7:29 AM

  3. The flameleaf is beautiful. I prefer the original version too. Bonne journée!


    November 24, 2020 at 7:23 AM

    • Merci, and merci to flameleaf sumac for its couleurs. Speaking of French, there’s an interesting tidbit of French history in which a botanist during the 1790s was almost guillotined for using the word Rhus, which is pronounced identically to the Russes that means Russians. Revolutionary fanatics took that to mean that the botanist was colluding with the Russians. It’s enough to make people think history repeats itself.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 7:38 AM

  4. I wish ours were as pretty.


    November 24, 2020 at 8:14 AM

  5. Albert Camus’s definition of autumn and your colourful photos of the sumac bush go well together, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    November 24, 2020 at 8:31 AM

  6. Sumac in autumn was always a favorite, too. I don’t see many in my immediate area.

    Lavinia Ross

    November 24, 2020 at 10:03 AM

    • How could it not have been a favorite, right? Too bad you don’t see many where you are now; that’s one more incentive to travel to other parts of the country next fall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 10:09 AM

  7. Beautiful photos as usual. Discovered last Saturday we have some mutual friends we didn’t know about. I haven’t heard the term “glom” before, though I’ve heard the term “mash” for mixing together two different things into one – in this case the Q&A about Spring and Autumn. I see from a search that it originally meant “to steal.” Or to grab and hold on to.


    November 24, 2020 at 10:39 AM

    • You might say I glommed onto together and appended it to glom to give the combination the meaning ‘to combine.’ Thus do meanings of words get extended. As for extending the circle of mutual acquaintances, perhaps you’re referring to D.L. and spouse P.L. in Georgetown. And another kind of extension is that of our mild weather, which fortunately has let some wildflowers keep doing their thing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 11:13 AM

  8. There’s a patch of these right outside our cabin window and lots more in the woods in the area. They are high on the list of MN delights that I’ve missed most this year. Lovely to see these from you.


    November 24, 2020 at 4:33 PM

    • I know you’ve been missing Minnesota and a northern fall. Still, New Zealand’s a pretty good consolation. While Interstate 35 goes from Austin to Minnesota, Rhus lanceolata gets no further along that route than northern Oklahoma, so you must have a different species of sumac up there, apparently Rhus glabra or Rhus typhina.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 4:45 PM

  9. The staghorn sumacs have already shed their leaves, but at least the nice red fruit is still around for a little color. This flameleaf is really nice. And this post has reminded me, I’m making some green beans for dinner, and they’re delicious with a little za’atar spice mix sprinkled on them, which has some sort of sumac in it.

    Robert Parker

    November 24, 2020 at 5:21 PM

    • Bon appétit. From what I’ve been able to find on the Internet, the species of sumac in za’atar is Rhus coriaria. I’m not surprised that your staghorn sumacs have already shed their leaves, given how far north Milwauke is. And yes, the residual red fruit clusters must give at least visual comfort as winter closes in.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 5:42 PM

  10. A lovely shrub… all the more so in fall, and esp. against a deep blue sky.

    Eliza Waters

    November 24, 2020 at 5:22 PM

    • That’s how I’ve most often photographed flameleaf sumac leaves, for the reason you mentioned, namely the great contrast with the blue in the sky.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 5:44 PM

  11. The quote is akin to butterflies being flying flowers. As brilliant red as sumac leaves are, I have rarely photographed them. Only one comes to mind and that was during summer. I like the first image with all those curvy small branches.

    Steve Gingold

    November 24, 2020 at 6:24 PM

    • Now that you mention it, we haven’t seen colorful sumacs in your fall pictures. Is there a reason that you haven’t photographed colorful sumacs? Regarding your comment about the first picture, I find the ways that flameleaf sumac branches and leaves curve are a great addition to the effect made by the colors.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2020 at 6:55 PM

  12. You have captured the light and the colours beautifully. Autumn light is always so special.

    Peter Hillman

    November 25, 2020 at 3:15 AM

    • That it is. And now if I could only get more of it at the beginning of the day; almost every morning for weeks had been overcast here, including today.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2020 at 7:07 AM

  13. Sumac’s one of my favorites, but so far it’s only the invasives that have provided much color around here; you know the tree of which I speak. The cypress trees aren’t performing well this year, either. They often turn rust colored from top to bottom and then drop their leaves, but this year it’s a patchwork drop, and not at all attractive. I’ve heard that drought has brought an early and less colorful leaf drop in the Kerrville area, too — so lucky you, to have such gorgeous color to share.


    November 26, 2020 at 7:58 AM

    • Sorry your fall colors aren’t that great this year. Some flameleaf sumacs are still doing well here, thankfully. The bald cypresses are so-so, as you said, even as I keep hoping to come across a particularly good one. Either way, there’s always next year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2020 at 9:09 AM

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