Hey, look at me
It’s fall here in Michigan, a great time of year made even better by the brilliant colors of the fall foliage, and one species in particular, staghorn sumac, really sets the stage. Staghorn sumac is a bush or small tree that grows aggressively, spreading from either seeds or by spreading rhizomes, and for most of the year, it is easily overlooked. Not in the fall though. When the leaves of sumac begin to change color, it is if it is crying out to us to say “Hey, look at me. Please don’t ignore me any longer”.
While it is easily overlooked during most of the year, it is an important species in the grand scheme of nature, for it provides food and shelter for many species of animals, particularly some species of birds. Sumac is usually recognized by its flowers and later fruit, known as drupes, which are red and conical-shaped with clusters of small flowers, so small most people think that the entire drupe is one flower.
It is the drupes that serve as food for birds, animals and even man. Sumac is related to cashews, believe it or not, and used as a spice in some parts of the world, for its light, lemony flavor. The fruit of sumac can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a pink lemonade. The leaves and berries of staghorn sumac have been mixed with tobacco and other herbs and smoked by Native American tribes. This practice continues to a small degree to this day.
All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as both a natural dye and as a mordant. The plant is rich in tannins and can be added to other dye baths to improve light fastness.
As you can see, it grows in dense clusters, often forming a secondary canopy under the canopy formed by taller growing trees. There have been a few times when I have waited out light rain showers under this secondary canopy, and stayed as dry is if I had worn a rain jacket. During those waits, I have noticed that many birds and small animals make use of sumac the same way that I was, for shelter from the rain. In the fall when the sumac leaves are changing color, it is like a different world under the canopy, as the light takes on the colors of the leaves.
It is known for its brilliant red color, but sumac isn’t content with just one color.
The colors of its leaves run the gamut from pastel yellow, to fire engine red, to shades of purples.
Michigan fall just wouldn’t be the same without the sumac to create vividly colored frames and splashes of color for the larger trees to play off from. The right frame can make all the difference in the world in how a photo or a piece of art looks, even though we seldom give the frame any credit, and so it is with sumac.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by.