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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sunday - April 28, 2013

From: Round Rock, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Plant Identification, Drought Tolerant, Trees
Title: Identifying Rhus lanceolata in Texas
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I think I've identified two small trees, 4 to 5 feet high at the back fence line and two in the front yard flower beds as prairie flameleaf sumac (or at least some kind of sumac). I saw a large prairie flameleaf sumac less than half a mile away last fall with lots of drupes and we have a very bird-friendly yard. How old do they have to be before the trees bloom and before I know for sure they might be prairie flameleaf sumac? I understand they are a good sub for Japanese maple, and we have a large lot so I don't mind if they spread. I read they might not set fruit even if they bloom. Is this true? Thanks for any advice and all your help online!

ANSWER:

Rhus lanceolata (prairie flameleaf sumac) is a thicket-forming small tree to about 20 ft. The pyramidal panicles of white blooms in the summer are followed by clusters of fuzzy red fruit. Like many sumac, the foliage turns a vivid red or orange in the fall. It is relatively fast growing and is noted for being pest- and disease-free as well as being heat-, cold- and drought-tolerant. The berries, after being soaked in water, make a tart, lemony, tasty drink that is high in vitamin C.

Virginia Tech, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation have put up a good webpage for the prairie flameleaf sumac with plant leaf, twig, bark and fruit descriptions as well as close up photos of the plant that might help with your identification. They also have links to shining sumac (Rhus copallinum) that is native to eastern Texas, smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) also in eastern Texas, and poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) also in eastern Texas that will help with comparisons.

Excellent photos of Rhus lanceolata are in the image archive of Central Texas Plants administered by Katie Hansen for the Native Plants of Central Texas course at the University of Texas at Austin.

Another item to note is that Rhus lanceolata may have compatibility issues among the flower parts. With four seedlings in your garden, you should have a good selection of both male and female plants to produce a good crop of fruit when your plants are mature enough to produce it. Here’s a previous Mr. Smarty Plants question about why their flameleaf sumac failed to produce fruit.

The information in our Native Plant Database on the species page for Rhus lanceolata (Prairie flameleaf sumac) says that it is unisexual and monoecious. Unisexual means that it has flowers that are strictly female with pistils containing eggs that can grow into seeds if fertilized and it also has separate male flowers with stamens that produce the pollen. (The alternative, bisexual or perfect flowers, have both the pistils and stamens within the same flower.) Monoecious means that the two types of flowers, male or female, occur on the same plant.(The alternative, dioecious, means that the male flowers occur on one plant and the female flowers occur on a separate plant.) You can see a line drawing of the two types of flowers on p. 235 of Shinners & Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas.

Robert Vines in Trees of Central Texas (p. 249-252) says that Rhus copellina has flowers that are "polygamo-dioecious". (Rhus copellina var. lanceolata is a synonym for Rhus lanceolata.)Vines definition for polygamo-dioecious is: "Essentially dioecious, but with some flowers of other sex or perfect flowers on the same individual."

 

From the Image Gallery


Prairie flameleaf sumac
Rhus lanceolata

Prairie flameleaf sumac
Rhus lanceolata

Prairie flameleaf sumac
Rhus lanceolata

Prairie flameleaf sumac
Rhus lanceolata

Prairie flameleaf sumac
Rhus lanceolata

Prairie flameleaf sumac
Rhus lanceolata

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