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October Flora Spotlight:
Smooth Sumac

Smooth Sumac
(Rhus glabra)

Sumacs are probably most appreciated for their vibrant fall colors, including orange, red, and shades of burgundy. They also have many other worthy attributes; erosion control, tolerance of slightly acid soil, generally pest and disease-free, low water use and the seed heads are an important winter food for birds and small mammals. Ring-necked pheasant, quail, wild turkey and about 300 species of songbirds include sumac fruit in their diet.

Plants come in male and female sexes, with yellow-green, summer-blooming flower clusters that bees and butterflies flock to. The females develop showy reddish seed heads. 

Use Sumac in the landscape for its ferny graceful form. With a lifespan of 20-30 years, three seasons of interest and the winter benefit to wildlife, Sumac should be on everyone’s must plant lists.

The Native Americans ate the raw young sprouts as a salad. The seeds can be chewed to quench thirst or prepared as a drink similar to lemonade. Medicinally the boiled fruit has been used as a remedy for painful menstruation and diarrhea. Roots and berries can be steeped to make a wash for sores. The roots also make a natural yellow dye.

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