Outdoors Journal: Showy sumacs

  • Article by: JIM GILBERT
  • Updated: September 23, 2010 - 10:16 PM

Colors of fall in Otter Tail County: Sumac gives the brightest red. Maplewood State Park.

Photo: Chris Welsch, Star Tribune

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Showy sumacs

Fall colors are coming on fast for the sumacs. They are showing much red, in many beautiful tones, and some yellows. The yellows and reds together give some sumac stands an orange glow. Between now and the end of the month, sumacs are truly in their autumn splendor.

Although the sumac's color display is impressive, the colonies within which it grows also tend to have a beautiful shape. Most are tall in the middle and slope off on the sides like a dome, because the younger, shorter plants grow out on every side from the "adult" plants in the middle. The process is called root suckering.

In Minnesota our two most common sumacs are staghorn and smooth. Both grow as tall shrubs with crooked, branched stems that often look like antlers. Staghorn sumac has fuzzy twigs and is common in southern Minnesota in the deciduous forest areas. Smooth sumac is common throughout the state and has smooth twigs.

Sumacs provide food for wild animals. Rabbits and deer browse the twigs, and at least several dozen species of birds eat the fruit. The bright red clusters of fuzzy fruits remain on the plants far into winter and are widely available when other, more desirable foods are scarce. American robins, eastern bluebirds, wild turkeys and ring-necked pheasants rely on sumac fruit as a winter or early spring food.


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