Thursday, October 15, 2009

Winged Sumac

The shrubs at Blue Jay Barrens seem to be having a contest to see which can have the most fruit and the reddest leaves. Winged Sumac, Rhus copallinum, is coming in as one of the favorites. This shrub can create beautiful crimson rafts through the grassland.

If there’s an upside, there has to be a downside and the downside to Winged Sumac is its aggressive behavior. A single plant can turn into a quarter acre patch in just a few years. If left uncontrolled, Winged Sumac can quickly turn an open prairie into a thicket.

Let’s jump back over to the upside. Winged Sumac is a short growing shrub with a canopy that remains semi-open until it reaches an age of about six years, so it takes a while before the grass starts to suffer. It also responds well to periodic mowing by regrowing with apparent increased vigor.

This vigor is expressed by production of an abundance of fruit clusters. I mow these patches every four or five years and fruit production is back to normal the second year after mowing.

The fruit dries around the seed and stays on the plant for several months. Birds usually begin feeding on these later in the winter. Use is heaviest in times of ice storms or deep snow.

Here’s the winged leaf that gives the plant its common name. This is an attractive plant in all seasons. I may try some in the yard to see how it behaves as a landscape plant.

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