an Ecological Pioneer
Bonsai-like in its growth
pattern sumac is a fixture in Missouri's fall landscape.
The burgundy-red berries catch one's attention at this time of
The berries are not a
'choice' food for wildlife, but once winter comes, some animals
do rely on them. The berries remain on sumac plants well
into winter, when other wildlife foods
are no longer available. Game birds and songbirds rel on
sumac berries and the seeds within for winter sustenance.
In sever weather, quail and other game birds stay near sumacs
until they've eaten all the berries. Rabbits and deer feed
on the bark and twigs as well as on the berries.
Sumac is often seen growing
along roadsides in Missouri. When a field is abandoned and
returns to forest, sumac is part of the succession plan.
The first invaders are grasses and annual plants; then follow
the perennials. Eventually, shrubs take over the area;
this is the stage where sumac is seen throughout the fields.
Once shade-tolerant trees emerge, the sumac dies out; it prefers
sunny open areas.
Considered an edible wild
plant,, sumac berries are used to make
tart 'lemonade'. An extract of sumac mixed with elderberry
juice makes a delicious jelly. When venturing to try an
edible sumac, stick to the plants with the red berries; Smooth
Sumac (Rhus glabra) is the species found in Missouri.
Steer clear of the white berries of poison sumac (Toxicodendron
vernax). It is a wetland species and is found in a
completely different ecosystem.
Sumac is too invasive to be a
garden plant, but it is a vital part of Missouri's plant life.
Article by LNC
Naturalist Susan Macdonald Bray
Sumac thicket and sumac leaves, Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources; Poison sumac, plants.usa.com)