Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Fragrant sumac

Today's featured Iowa native is a woody shrub rather than a wildflower, and it's far from the most beautiful plant blooming on my block right now. But Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) is a hardy plant and good option to consider for landscaping, especially if you need something deer won't destroy. We had these bushes planted some years ago to replace non-native shrubs (if I recall correctly, they were the highly invasive honeysuckle). They've survived tough winters, and the deer we see frequently in this corner of Windsor Heights don't care for the foliage.

Fragrant sumac is native to almost all of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. According to the Illinois Wildflowers site, it thrives in "full or partial sun, dry conditions, and soil that is sandy or rocky. However, this shrub will adapt to mesic conditions with fertile loamy soil if there is not too much competition from other species of plants." Small bees or flies will visit the flowers.

Illinois Wildflowers is a good resource for botanically accurate descriptions of this shrub's leaves, flowers, and fruit.

Lora Conrad captured the next five beautiful images of a shrub we have tentatively identified as fragrant sumac in Van Buren County. Here's most of the plant:

A limb with leaves:

Closer views of the leaf clusters (technically these are called trifoliate leaves):

Reverse side of leaf clusters:

The rest of the pictures in this post are mine. The small, light green clusters of fragrant sumac flowers are the opposite of attention-getting. They sometimes appear before most of the leaves have emerged.

A few more looks at the flowers:

I don't have any pictures handy of the "hairy red drupes" that appear in the summer, but I'll try to update this post later this year.

JULY 2020 UPDATE: Here is what the flower clusters look like for a couple of months after petals drop.

The leaves fill in much more after the flowers are gone.

Fruit often starts to appear in early July.

New leaves continue to develop as well.

Tags: Wildflowers
  • I really appreciate...

    ...being able to learn about a new Iowa native plant in such an appealing way. I had heard of fragrant sumac but didn't know anything about it or what it looked like. Wildflower Wednesdays are great.

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