Winged Sumac Rhus copallinum

I suppose many people would chop down the winged sumac on the hill. We do now and then when it gets too tall and thick. But the hill there is too steep to do much else, the sumac is pretty especially in the fall and the praying mantises love it for laying their eggs. So the sumac stays.

Rhus copallinum L.

June to July                                                  N                                 Family: Anacardiaceae

winged sumac umbel

Flower: Branches end with terminal clusters of flowers forming a drooping cone. Each yellowish white flower is tiny, an eighth of an inch across with five petals and five stamens. The calyx under the flower has five triangular lobes that spread out.

winged sumac flowers

Leaf: The alternate leaves are compound with seven to twelve leaflets. The first pair of leaflets is the shortest and they get bigger as they go toward the tip and can reach three inches long. The center stem is winged. The edges are smooth. The leaves are not hairy.

winged sumac leaf

Stem: New stems are hairy. Older stems lose the hairs and become woody with a smooth gray bark dotted with lenticels or raised spots. The stems often branch forming leggy shrubs. Most are five to six feet tall, but can reach 20 feet.

winged sumac under leaf

Root: There is a perennial taproot and rhizomes.

winged sumac bark

Fruit: The single seeds have a red, fleshy coating and are hairy. The red darkens over the winter, if the seeds are not eaten.

winged sumac bud

Habitat: This plant likes sunny, drier areas such as prairies, old fields and roadsides.

winged sumac berries

Edibility: Fresh berries can be steeped. The tea must be filtered to remove the hairs.

winged sumac in summer

Winged Sumac

Dwarf Sumac, Shining Sumac

winged sumac in fall

Early in fall Winged Sumac turns brilliant, glowing scarlet. As it tends to form large colonies, this can be quite spectacular to see. Over the summer the colony is dark green.

There are several sumacs. This one is easy to identify by the winged stems joining the leaflets.

When the flowers open, the air hums from the many insects moving between the clusters. The flowers are too small to see unless you are very close. From a distance the cluster changes from green to off white. The flowers are very engaging to the insects as you can get close enough to examine the flowers without disturbing the busy plying of the bees, wasps, flies and beetles.

The tea from the berries has a slightly lemony taste. The tea is often called Indian Lemonade, although the Indians called it Quallah. It is good plain or sweetened. It does have to be filtered as the hairs are small and stiff and ruin the drink. A good measure is two cups of berries per quart of hot, not boiling, water. This can be adjusted to taste. Dried berries (not old berries off the bushes) can be used.

Enjoy more about the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills, a book of nature essays and photographs.