Sumac seems to be everywhere around here. If you looked at the wood’s edge, most likely you could find a few sumac shrubs or little trees. It is a common plant, but there are a few different kinds of sumac. One is poisonous, but that occurs mostly in swamps. We don’t have that habitat up here on the mountain ridge, but we do have to keep our eyes open for poison sumac’s nasty cousin, poison ivy!
The Audubon North American Field Guide to Wildflowers describes Fragrant, Poison, Smooth, Staghorn and Winged Sumac in Eastern North America. Smooth, Poison and Fragrant Sumac all have smooth twigs. To be sure, Poison Sumac leaflets are not toothed and its berries are white.
Fragrant Sumac, Rhus aromatica, is a little different in appearance as it only has three leaflets to its compound leaves, where the other sumacs have many more leaflets, like 9 to 31 leaflets.
Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra, is definitely smooth on the twigs and the many leaflets are untoothed. The leaf stems have a nice blush of purple on them. (Photo of smooth sumac taken on 30 June 2010.)
Winged Sumac can be differentiated from Staghorn Sumac by the presence of a winged midrib between the leaflets of its pinnately compound leaves. Leaflets are untoothed in Winged Sumac.
Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, seems to be the primary species of Sumac in our area. Characteristics that mark this sumac are its hairy twigs, toothed leaflets, and reddish hairs on berry-like fruits. Flowers are green in terminal clusters.
A type of pink lemonade can be made from the ripe red berries of Staghorn Sumac in the summertime. Peterson’s Edible Plant Guide says to bruise the berries, soak for 15 minutes in cold water, strain out the hairs and berries with cheesecloth, sweeten and chill.
Does anyone out there feel adventurous enough to try sumac lemonade? Let us know how you make out!
Mayapple, or American Mandrake, is one of those interesting plants that is easy to recognize because of its uniqueness. No other plant looks quite like the umbrella plant, does it? One or two deeply cut leaves have an overall round shape with a truly variegated edge. No two leaves seem to be alike, yet they are similar.
Appropriately named Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, starts blooming in the beginning of May. A single large white flower about two inches across blooms underneath the cover of one or two large leaves. The leaves seem to protect the flowers kind of like an umbrella. Check out some nice photos of Mayapple flowers in an earlier post about this native woodland plant.
Photo above taken 6 June 2010.
A single ripening fruit juts out from between the fork of two Mayapple leaves. I’m not sure what blight caused the yellow spots on the leaves of this Mayapple, but when the foliage is dying back it sometimes happens. Into July we can find mayapples turning yellow even though much of the foliage has already withered away.
The fruit is edible and can be enjoyed as a refreshing cold drink. One year I picked a handful of yellow fruit, cut them up and squeezed out the liquid in to a glass of ice cubes. I expected more of a citrus taste as Peterson’s Edible Plant Guide suggested the juice could be added to lemonade. Without sugar it would have been too tart and bland at the same time. At the very least Mayapple fruits are a survival food packed with vitamin C.
I’m wondering if the wild temperatures we had this spring affected the blooming time of our Black Cherry trees. We know that extremes in weather conditions will alter blooming times for many flowers and prohibit flowering altogether in some cases. Each year we wonder if the cherry blossoms will bloom during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.
2010 has been a wild roller coaster ride as far as temperatures go. We’ve had swings from 20 degrees above to 20 degrees below the average high temperatures. Surely, the blooming times of some plants were affected. A point in case is the Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida. Its flowering was next to nil for 2010. Very few wild flowering dogwood trees bloomed in our immediate area. The same observations were seen as far away as Virginia, where the dogwoods did not bloom heavily as in previous years, if at all.
It’s easy to draw conclusions, but we really don’t know for sure what causes certain plants to really put on a show one year and barely be apparent the next. Without a proper study one can always find an alternate explanation. Perhaps the accumulation of necessary nutrients takes longer in some years affecting their reproductive cycles. Is that why we have bumper crops of acorns in some years and not so many in other years?
Certainly, temperature does have something to do with blooming times, at least for some plants, like cherries. By the way, the cherry blossoms in Washington were right on time for 2010 with a 10 day blooming period and a blooming peak on March 31.
At any rate it is interesting to see changes from year to year. Just observe the same plants over a several year period, you’ll be able to learn a lot from your little green friends.
2010 was a great flowering year for the wild cherry trees of the genus Prunus.
Saplings that are about an inch in diameter and about 12-15 feet tall, flowered the most this May that we have ever seen them. Perhaps these little trees just got big enough to flower that much. Maybe the rain and temperatures were optimal for flowering of the cherry trees in our locality. We can’t say with certainty what caused the exquisite blooming, but we can say it was a good blooming year for our little wild cherries.
We were lucky to see so many blossoms of wild cherry this year.
Two similar wild cherry trees grow in the same type of habitat at the edge of the woods or in recently cleared areas. To decide whether the flowering cherry trees we’re looking at are Black Cherry or Common Chokecherry, we need to look at the margins of the leaves. Are the teeth sharp or blunt? If the teeth are sharp, we have the Common Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana. If the teeth are blunt, we’re looking at the Black Cherry, Prunus serotina.
Consider the overall shape of the leaf. Is it elongated and pointed, or more squat with a short tip? Black cherry leaves are elongated, lance-like, and have 13 or more lateral leaf veins. Common chokecherry leaves have fewer leaf veins, 8 – 11, and are short-pointed at the tip.
To verify these identifications, note whether the fruits retain the calyx lobes (of the old sepals) at the top of the fruit next to the stem. If the cherry does not retain the calyx lobes, it is a common chokecherry. If the cherry retains the calyx lobes, it is a black cherry.
leaves with sharp teeth
leaves with blunt teeth
leaf vein pairs 8-11
leaf vein pairs 13+
short pointed leaf tip
fruit with no calyx
fruit retain calyx lobes
Fruit from either tree is edible, if somewhat bitter. Grolier’s Field Guide to North American Trees tells us that every three or four years black cherry trees have a bumper crop of fruit. If the birds let you have enough, why not make some wild cherry jelly?
Our black cherries here are gaining size, but they’re still green. It seems that many of the flowers don’t produce fruit at all because of the few number that reach maturity. Has anyone seen a cluster of wild cherry fruit that was as long as the flower cluster? Typically, you’ll see two or three ripe berries for each cluster of a few dozen flowers.
The green cherries aren’t ready to eat of course, but you can see the retained calyx lobes at the top of the fruits, near the stem. Photo above taken 31 May 2010. Note the blunt teeth at the leaf margins and many side veins in the leaf, which indicate this to be a Black Cherry.
In reality you’ll probably never get enough wild cherries to make jelly. Besides many kinds of birds, raccoons, rabbits, squirrel, deer and bear will eat cherries. One of our black cherry trees didn’t bear any more fruit than three cherries on the whole tree, even though it flowered beautifully as seen in the first two images in this post.
I’m curious…does anyone out there use wild cherries for food or to make jelly?
The Box Huckleberry Natural Area in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania has more than one special plant flowering in April.
The Box Huckleberry, Gaylussacia brachycera, continues to bloom with many white, bell-shaped blossoms opening up to the warmth of the day.
White blueberry-like flowers on the New Bloomfield Box Huckleberry.
The huckleberry blooms are pink in the bud stage and white as they mature.
They don’t all bloom at once. Note in the image above, taken 18 April 2010, that several blossoms have already fallen away, yet there are still many flowers blooming.
A couple weeks later, 30 April 2010, there were still a few flowering huckleberries, but most had already flowered. Little green berries could be seen at the tips on some stems.
Green huckleberries at the tip of the stem show that these blossoms flowered first, even though the plant is still flowering further up the stem. (Photo taken 30 April 2010.)
Huckleberry new growth arises from projections along older stems. (Photo taken 30 April 2010.)
New light green foliage grows vertically from many places along a single stem. (Photo taken 30 April 2010.)
Continuing down the trail I had a nice surprise when I saw a Pink Lady’s-Slipper, Cypripedium acaule. Since I was so focused on the box huckleberry plant, the lady slipper practically jumped out at me. The shape and color were so different from the evergreen ovals of the huckleberry.
An orchid known as Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower due to its pouch-like flower. Stay tuned for photos of pink ladys slippers.
Even though we have seen the pink lady’s slipper flowering on the mountain ridges in this area, I was delighted to see this pretty orchid here in a protected forest setting.
The box huckleberry is either tasteless or sweet like a blueberry depending on what you read. It’s evident that somebody has tasted the wrong berry or misidentified their berry.
Blueberries are similar to huckleberries. There are several types of each plant, so one would expect that they don’t all taste the same. It seems that the plentiful huckleberries of the Northwest might be different than the box huckleberry of Pennsylvania, especially in regards to taste.
Since the fruits are similar recipes using blueberries could be used interchangeably with huckleberries. If the huckleberries are not sweet, adjustments will have to be made.
Ok. So I probably won’t be making huckleberry pie anytime soon because the fruit won’t ripen for a month or more, but I did want to collect a few links about eating huckleberries or using them in the kitchen somehow.