I have a complicated relationship with smooth sumac. It’s a native prairie shrub and a long-term and important member of the grassland plant community. On the other hand, it is often more abundant than I’d like, especially in smaller prairie fragments – altering habitat structure, shading out other plants, and offering protective and nurturing conditions for encroaching trees. I don’t want to eradicate smooth sumac, but it can spread over large areas, and seems to be getting better at doing so as the climate changes.
In the fall, however, my relationship with smooth sumac gets a lot rosier. I can’t think of any prairie plants that have a more striking autumn plumage, especially against a backdrop of golden grasses. Photographing sumac leaves in the fall has become an annual tradition for me – one I very much enjoy. The only problem is that I’m constantly trying to find new ways to photograph this plant, for which I already have a big library of images. This year, I focused on a couple plants that leaves that weren’t just uniformly red. One of those plants had leaves that seemed to be in various stages of their green to red transformation, and the other had patterns I can’t explain, but am very much entranced by.
As soon as sumac drops its leaves our relationship will deteriorate again. I’ll look upon the same plants I photographed this week with a sharp and wary eye, watching closely to see if they are trying to take over one of my favorite prairies. For now, though, they sure are pretty, aren’t they?
The photos are interesting: especially the last two. I don’t remember seeing such a vibrant purple on sumac. It’s beautiful.
The most interesting sumac I’ve seen was at the Diamond Grove prairie south of Joplin, Missouri. I was there in the fall, and the mima mounds were covered with it. The scarlet mounds scattered around the prairie were so attractive.
Each of God’s creations have their moment to shine. thank you for sharing this moment with us!
The fall color in your area is further along than where I live. This is somewhat surprising since things at the Platt River Prairies grow and flower earlier in spring than in my location. I would think your longer growing season would result in a later fall. The drier conditions in your neck of the prairie must bring larger swings in temperature which cause fall color changes to occur earlier.
The below link has a photo of two of my favorite prairie grasses for fall color. Unfortunately, this color has not yet fully developed so you will have to use your imagination.