Persistent Sumac Seed Clusters

Staghorn sumac is an attention grabber from July right through the winter. In the summer, the large red fruit cluster is already present; in the fall the leaves are a brilliant red well before the leaves turn on most other trees; in winter, the fruit clusters hang on when very little fruit remains on other trees in the park, providing sustenance both for birds and bird watchers on cold days.

Now, in early December, the robins that seem to have a particular sequence of moving from one type of berry to the next have arrived at the sumac in significant numbers. This is what they see up close.


Each of the little fuzzy fruits contains just one seed and the full cluster may contain as many as 700 seeds. The seed clusters grow at the end of stems on the deciduous shrubs or small trees, which may grow to some 20 feet. The plants grow in colonies or thickets and, in Eliza Howell, there is a grouping along the nature path leading to the river from the car loop.

The seed clusters grow in early summer, clearly noticeable by the fourth of July.

20171211_111502          July 5, 2017

Staghorn sumac got the name “staghorn” from the velvety covering of bare twigs in winter, which suggested (to someone) the velvet on new antlers. They have crooked, leaning trunks and large leaves. Some plants are male and some female; only female trees produce flowers and berries. The colony along the nature path is made up of female plants.

The fruit is edible and is used by some people to make a drink, which is compared to lemonade. Others dry and grind the fruit to use as a spice. The fruit is ready for human harvesting, should one want to do so, in late August or so. A variety of wildlife harvest the fruit later, often over the winter.

20170831_112149           August 31, 2017

In September and October, the attractive red of the seed clusters is nearly overwhelmed by the brighter red of the leaves.


20170914_091435 (1)        September 1 4, 2017

20171024_092224 (2)      October, 24, 2017

By the time December and the first snows come, the leaves are long gone and wildlife has begun to forage on the persistently standing seed clusters.

20171209_112321     December 9, 2017

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