Ask almost anyone what he thinks of the Sumac, and you may be sure almost to a one, the comments that you will receive will be negative. Yet, there is nothing on this earth-God’s good earth-that doesn’t serve some purpose, even if we don’t yet understand what that purpose may be. One of the Sumacs included in that group would be the Dwarf Sumac. So what does the Dwarf Sumac, Rhus copallina, look like, where does it grow, and what bad qualities and good qualities does it possess?
Habitat and Identification
Unlike other Sumacs, the Dwarf Sumac (sometimes called Winged Sumac, Flameleaf Sumac, or Shining Sumac) is quite small, being perhaps five to ten feet tall, with its trunk about as many inches wide. Like most other Sumac trees, the Dwarf Sumac grows along the edges of forests and fields, and especially along roads. This is because it enjoys full sun to partial shade. The wood is pretty much useless, and although the leaves are interesting due to the “wings” on the leaf stems, (see the image associated with this article), the tree is rarely planted intentionally. Red fruits called drupes are found in abundance on the Dwarf Sumac.
The Dwarf Sumac as Food for Humans
Many stories are told concerning the fruit of the Dwarf Sumac tree, as well as a few other varieties, including the Staghorn Sumac. It is said the drupes are cleaned and extracted to produce a lemony-flavored drink similar to lemonade. This drink has even been attributed to Native Americans. While perhaps they did indeed make such a drink, the abundance of small bugs infesting the beverage before straining, has cast doubts in the minds of some scientists that this is true, and not merely myth. Among such doubters is famed naturalist Donald Stokes.
Is There, Then, No Use for the Dwarf Sumac?
So is there nothing positive about the Dwarf Sumac? On the contrary, although it may not be of particular immediate benefit to people its fruit provides food for birds including grouse, wild turkey, and songbirds. The bark serves as food for rabbits in winter. It is wise to recognize that even if a plant or an animal doesn’t serve some immediate human purpose, doesn’t mean it is without any purpose or value of an indirect nature.
References and Resources:
Ohio Public Library Information Network – What Tree Is It? – Dwarf Sumac
Catnapin – Tree & Shrub Gallery – Sumac Family
Martha’s Vineyard Magazine – Fun with Foods – Sumac (insert)
Duke University – Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum)
US Forest Service – Rhus copallinum