En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - May 07, 2013

From: Dodge City, KS
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Disappointing Fall color from sumac in Dodge City, KS
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have had a fragrant sumac bush growing in our front yard (faces south) for several years. While it is healthy and growing well, we are always disappointed in its lack of bright fall foliage. It displays only patchy dark red leaves in autumn, and we had hoped it would turn some combination of orange, yellow and red. Any suggestions for how to coax it into putting on a bright and beautiful fall show? Thank you!

ANSWER:

Did you know that one of the common names for Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac) is "Polecat Bush"? We guess that the fragrance is in the nose of the smeller. Anyway, we found 3 pictures in our Image Gallery of that plant in its fall plumage, see the pictures below from our Image Gallery. So, we can understand your wishing to have a better show of color from your plant. What we don't know is exactly why it does not.

This USDA Plant Profile Map shows that Fragrant sumac does, indeed, grow natively in Ford County, Kansas, so we can't use the excuse that it is intolerant of the climate or soils. We will search a little further for an explanation. We looked at all the Internet sources we could find, including this set of Images from Google.

We found an article from the Missouri Botanic Garden on Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low" which is a cultivar of Rhus aromatica. Here is an exerpt from that article:

"This fragrant sumac cultivar is a dense, low-growing, rambling shrub which spreads by root suckers and typically grows only to 1-2' tall but spreads to 8' wide. Trifoliate, medium green leaves turn attractive shades of orange and red in autumn."

Is it possible that it is that cultivar that you have seen that led you to believe your shrub should expect red and orange leaves in the Fall?

Beyond that, about all we can do is take a closer look at the growing conditions from our webpage on this plant, and see if you have comparable growing conditions. Follow this plant link, Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac) to see for yourself if you have similar water available, soils, etc.

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Dry, rocky soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam Clay, Rocky, Caliche type, Limestone-based
Conditions Comments: In spring, fragrant sumac flowers appear before the foliage. This shrub turns fall colors of red, yellow and orange. The flower is a nectar source for adult butterflies. Fragrant sumac colonizes to form thickets and looks best when planted en mass or in drift-like plantings as it occurs in nature. It is fast growing, generally pest and disease-free, and drought-tolerant. Colonies are often single-sexed, formed from a single, suckering parent. Only female plants produce flowers and berries"

If that still doesn't answer your question, we suggest you learn to love dark red leaves; they sound lovely to us.

 

From the Image Gallery


Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

More Shrubs Questions

Plants for slope on Orcas Island, WA
July 21, 2011 - Hi! What a great site! Okay, I have a home on Orcas Island, WA. We live here from about June through September, but only visit once a month or so the other times of the year. We are looking for somet...
view the full question and answer

Coralberry in Central Texas has lost leaves
October 07, 2009 - I planted a coralberry this past spring. It seemed to be doing well, but then I noticed some of its leaves were missing. Gradually, all the leaves disappeared, from the top of the plant down. It is ab...
view the full question and answer

Sunny and shady lawns from Austin
April 28, 2012 - My front yard has a large bed surrounded by a mix of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. Last summers heat killed off about 90% of the St. Augustine, which we would like to replace anyway to conserve re...
view the full question and answer

Getting rid of wild plums (Prunus angustifolia)
July 28, 2008 - When I bought my land, there was a humongous thicket of wild plums (Prunus angustifolia) approx 10 ft high and covering 5-10 acres. I raise goats, and have known that wild plums (the leaves) can cause...
view the full question and answer

Black chokeberry edible from Huntsville ON
May 04, 2013 - Can the fruit of the black chokeberry be eaten??
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center