Saturday, October 13, 2012

Sumac in the Fall

On our recent drive across country,
it was still too early to see much autumn color in Virginia and West Virginia.
But when we got to Kentucky, it seems every tree and shrub along the interstate
sported some autumn color.
Whether chartreuse or yellow or gold, 
whether orange or copper, ruby or vermilion, 
the leaves on the trees vied for our attention.
But there was one plant so brilliantly red,
it made all the other colors look muted.

How to describe the fire-red of sumac in the fall?
Lipstick red? Barn red? Scarlet? Cinnabar? 
Maybe candy apple red?
No color term seems bright enough, saturated enough, or simply red enough
to do the sumac's autumn color justice.

Here's a photo of a leaf that comes close to the color we saw:
Photo of sumac leaf compliments of

Along the township roads in Missouri where my parents once lived,
sumac stands were common. 
In the fall the sumac shrubs formed a vivid mass of red 
in complement to the green and gold landscape.
And then after their leaves fell, 
the deep red clusters of sumac berries would stay on the bare branches 
through much of the late autumn and early winter,
eventually drying to a deep chocolate-burgundy color.

Photo of sumac berries compliments of

Many times I have tried to bring these colorful clusters into the house 
as part of an autumn arrangement or tablescape,
but some naturals just refuse to be possessed.
The sumac berries have a mind of their own, being way too independent
to consent to a stationary existence in one of my tableaus.

But there is more to the sumac than autumn color and clusters of berries.
I discovered online that the sumac's fruit is edible.
The berries are dried and ground to make a lemony, spicy seasoning 
for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes.
The berries can also be used to make tea.

This variety of sumac is not poisonous, 
so if I ever get the opportunity, 
I might just try it in one of its culinary forms.
But for now, I'll just remember how it glows so intensely red in the autumn sun.

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