Our house is located just a short walk from the beach and at all times of year you can find us wandering down to look at the water and stretch our legs. On the side of the dirt road as you come to the water there is a stand of Staghorn sumac or Rhus typhina that always captures my attention.
This shrub is native to eastern North America and stands anywhere from 3 - 10 metres tall. They like full sun and well drained soil. In fact poor soil conditions will suit these plants just fine. They're most important requirement is no standing water. The plants spread aggressively via rhizomes and form large colonies. The spreading open form makes it easily identifiable at any time of year but during the cold days of winter the red fruiting cones are what makes me take notice.
The cones are what botanists call a drupe. That means there's a fleshy outer coating around a seed. Essentially the cones are comprised of many many berries containing a seed in each one. So not only do sumacs spread by their rhizomes, the birds that feast upon the berries are also spreading the seeds. Planting one of these shrubs would mean attracting all sorts of feathered attention including ruffed grouse, ring necked pheasant, crows, gray catbird, hermit thrush, robins, eastern phoebe, eastern bluebird and starlings among others. The berries weren't terribly damaged when we walked past these shrubs a few weeks ago but I'm sure as winter drags on there will be little left.
The birds have begun to peck away at this cone
As I was photographing these plants my husband asked me their name. I told him Staghorn sumac and he responded 'how in the world will I be able to remember that?'. That brings me to the other notable feature of these plants. Take a close look at the branches.
I got hubby to reach out and touch them. The new growth each year is covered in a soft fuzz. Like the velvet on the new horns of a deer in spring. The branches are extremely soft to the touch. Their texture and the open shape of the branches is an instant reminder of the name - staghorn. We'll see if he remembers it the next time we walk down this road.
Many of the details about this native shrub were learned from the wonderful information presented by our local institution, the MacPhail Woods Foresty Project. Being new to eastern Canada and the province of Prince Edward Island I have so much to learn about the native plants around me and MacPhail has been a wonderful resource in this regard. I was very pleased to learn this shrub likes poor dry soil as I had rather expected it required lots of water. Now I'm thinking I might make a spot for it in my garden, possibly adding it to the hedgerow where it can expand as much as it likes.
Wildflower Wednesday is brought to you by Gail at Clay and Limestone. On the fourth Wednesday of each month garden bloggers come together to share their favourite wildflowers and native plants.