This week’s “Plant of the Week” is a common flowering plant in the area. Sumac species are seen on the side of county roads, on river banks, and along fencerows. The word ‘sumac’ has a long history that can be traced back from the 13th century French word ‘sumac’, to Medieval Latin ‘sumach’, to Arabic ‘summaq’- all meaning “red”. We have two species of sumac in the Texas Botanical Gardens, and this week I will be focusing on the smallest of the Hill Country sumac species- Aromatic Sumac or Rhus aromatica. This shrub was named for the pungently spicy aroma released when the twigs and leaves are bruised.
Aromatic sumac is a medium-sized shrub that hugs the ground, growing only about 2 ft tall but spreading out about 8 ft. This makes it an excellent choice for stabilizing stream banks or smothering out unwanted weeds by blocking their sun. The leaves consist of three leaflets, each wider and lobed at the tip ends. The leaves have a similar appearance to the related species, poison ivy, but have none of the poisonous qualities. In the fall, the glossy leaves turn a beautifully vivid red-orange color. Slender twigs from the shrub can be used to produce a yellow dye or to weave baskets.
Rhus aromatica has male flowers, that grow in catkins, and female flowers, that grow in clusters. These yellow flowers start to appear in spring. The female flowers will begin to turn into fuzzy red berries during the summer months. Right now in the gardens, the aromatic sumac are covered with little, red, fleshy berries. This fruit is enjoyed by birds, raccoons, opossum, and deer.
Republished with permission of the Goldthwaite Eagle. By Savannah Lane.