Friday, July 24, 2009

Smooth Sumac

There are many plants just starting to display some showy blooms at Blue Jay Barrens, but this plant will draw your eye from them all. This is the seed head of Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra. This vibrant crimson display can be seen for a long way across the field.

A closer look at the sumac fruit. Even though the fruit is now beginning to ripen, birds won’t be paying it much attention until mid to late winter. This seems to be one of those survival foods and it does its job well. These plants hold their fruit and remain standing through the toughest of winter weather.

Sumacs quickly form a thicket and at Blue Jay Barrens, will grow to a height of about 12 feet. I mow most of the sumac areas every two to three years as part of my management effort to maintain open fields. One result of the mowing is an increase in Sumac fruit production. This particular area is into its second growing season and is producing an impressive amount of fruit.

Regrowth is rapid after mowing. This plant was cut in February of this year and is now about five feet tall. The mowing cycle maximizes the leaf area to root mass ratio for maximum growth. It also causes the type of plant stress that stimulates production of fruit. Mowing too often would cause the plants to begin dieing and mowing less often would cause the growth to get tall and woody. Tall growth stops sending up these vigorous young sprouts and is very susceptible to winter kill. The areas of sumac that I do not mow are a tangle of dead and fallen trunks. These areas are often slow to recover following a winter die off.

This is the last of the Smooth Sumac blooms for 2009. Many types of pollinators visit these large flower clusters.

Sumac patches are often a collection of cloned sprouts. Since they all share the same genetic schedule, the stage of fruit development on one plant is mirrored on all of the related plants.

Some of these seed heads are massive. I disturbed a bird busily digging for something inside this seed head. It didn’t seem to be after the fruit, but was digging for something hidden in the cluster. You can see where it exposed the white skin of fruits that received no sunlight.

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