|It's easy to see how Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) gets its name. Its furry and velvety stems and branches resemble a stag's antlers in the "velvet" stage of development.|
A little about antlers and velvet...
Male deer grow new antlers every year. They shed them in late winter, and new antler growth begins in late March or early April. Antlers are bone, not horn, and the growing bone is fed by blood vessels in the sensitive skin that covers the bone, which looks like and is called "velvet." Antlers grow quickly, and by late summer the levels of the reproductive hormone testosterone increase, signaling the bone to start to harden. Up until then, the antlers were soft, spongy, and even delicate. Eventually, a ring at the base of the antler (the burr) cuts off the blood supply to the velvet, which dries up and falls off. The hard antlers remain on the stag through the height of the breeding season. As testosterone levels start to fall after the rut, the antlers eventually fall off. For a more detailed explanation of the growth of a deer's antlers, click here for an article by the University of Missouri that also contains photos of deer antlers in velvet. Click here for a similar article that explains how antlers grow by The Izaak Walton league of America. For a beautiful photo of a white-tailed deer in velvet, click here. For a photo of a white-tailed deer losing his velvet, click here.
|You can't beat the color of Staghorn Sumac in the autumn.|
Staghorn Sumac is native to the United States and is part of the cashew family. I love the bright red and orange color of the leaves in autumn, and a few years ago I added a few plants to my yard. They have multiplied and have already started a small colony, but even though I love the fall color, I love the fruit Staghorn Sumacs produce for the birds even more. Staghorn Sumac fruit helps birds get through the dead of winter. When all the other softer and more desirable berries of late summer and fall have been consumed, and the bushes and trees are all stripped bare, Staghorn Sumac fruit is still viable. The fuzzy fruit becomes an important source of food in the late winter and early spring for overwintering birds such as wild turkeys, Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, Northern Cardinals, Mockingbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, Brown Thrashers, Cedar Waxwings, Bobwhite Quail, grouses, and Hermit Thrushes. Staghorn Sumac "berries" are technically called "drupes" (a drupe is a fleshy fruit that surrounds a single seed in a shell; e.g., a cherry or a plum), and the conical cluster of drupes is called a "bob."
|Vibrant red leaflets stand out against the dull background.|
|Staghorn Sumac leaves are compound and are made up of nine to 31 leaflets. The leaflets are between two and five inches long. They have toothed edges and hang opposite each another.|
Staghorn Sumac is not Poison Sumac
I've heard people mention they don't like Staghorn Sumac, because they thought it was Poison Sumac. It's not. Staghorn Sumac has red berries, furry stems, and jagged (toothed) leaves. It's also common and grows at forest edges, clearings, and hillsides. Poison Sumac has white berries, smooth stems, and smooth leaves. It's not as common and grows in wetlands. Poison Sumac is not your friend. I read on the TrekOhio blog that it is the most toxic plant in the United States! For photos and more discussion of urushiol (the resin in the plant that causes the allergic reactions in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac), click here. In Ohio, Poison Sumac is mostly found in the northeast and in boggy areas in the south. Urushiol doesn't bother the birds, and just like Staghorn Sumac fruit, birds like Poison Sumac berries.
Click here for more information on Staghorn Sumac from The Ohio State University's Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide.