Foraging Fun: Sumac Lemonade

Even those of us who are not intimately acquainted with the wide diversity of useful and beautiful plants that grace our rural and urban landscapes here in southern Ontario (or eastern North America in general for that mater) can at least recognize the staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina, even if they do not know it by name. This characteristic, thicket-forming shrub in the cashew family (Anacardiaceae, which also includes such familiar species as mangoes, poison ivy and pistachios) can be found growing in a wide variety of different but open, sunny habitats including the edges of forests, along dry ridges, invading open meadows and bordering farm fields and railway corridors just to name a few.

Staghorn sumac can be easily identified especially in mid to late summer by it’s long terminal clusters of tightly packed fuzzy red seeds that last well into winter and only begin to lose their red glow and look tired come spring. The long pinnately compound leaflets with pale white undersides that look almost palm-like are also quite hard to miss and stand out from the surrounding foliage. Each individual specimen is short-lived but sends up new shoots from it’s invasive root system that can grow several feet in a single year, making this a very aggressive and successful species, quickly occupying new territory and shading out competitors. The alternating, angular pattern of growth near the ends of the branches coupled with the soft, velvety texture of young twigs vaguely resembles the antlers of a male deer, hence the common name staghorn. Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Sumac Lemonade”