Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tragically Beautiful

What a lovely shrub this is.

It’s a shame that we have to kill it. This is the poison sumac, Toxicodendron Vernix, that hangs over the back lawn. I toyed with the notion of keeping it as a beneficial plant for the wildlife, because the berries fed the birds all last winter. But now that we have friends who bring their small children to visit, and our own child who will be mobile in another year, it has become an obvious threat. The bush hangs where visitors could easily touch it, and nothing about this plant looks remotely dangerous.

Right now the plant is somewhat distinctive because it has drupes of white berries, and the foliage is turning a beautiful range of yellow, red, and purple. But during the rest of the year it is deceptively plain and green. Nobody - and I do mean nobody! - knows how to identify this plant. Which is why, I suspect, the previous owners let it grow next to their lawn to begin with. They must have suffered from many mysterious rashes.

Although I have read nothing to suggest this is true, I suspect poison sumac comes in a male and female variety, because there is a second tree that appears to be poison sumac beside this one, but it has not produced berries. I wasn’t sure that the second tree was poison sumac at all, because it is much taller than this one – a good thirty feet, in fact. Poison sumac isn’t supposed to get more than ten or fifteen feet tall.

I’ll know for sure when I test it, assuming I can work up the nerve to test it.


hero爺 said...

Beautiful pictures, but a tragically story on the shrub!

Rebecca said...

That really is a beautiful plant.

Michelle said...

Thanks Hero. :)

Hi Rebecca! With any luck it will still have a few colorful leaves when you get here.

It now really looks like the thirty-foot tree behind this one is an exceptionally large male sumac. But on the bright side, that one is so tall that most of the branches are out of reach, so it can stay.

I still havn't tested it, though.

Anonymous said...

The taller one could be poison sumac; some say it can reach 30 feet. If you got rid of an ailanthus tree thinking it was poison, sumac, that would be no tragedy because ailanthus is an invasive species anyway. The leaves of ailanthus trees (sumac family) are mostly smooth-edged, but tend to have a a tooth near the base of most of the leaves. Other possibilities are walnut or ash. Try looking for the white berries with binoculars if the tree is too tall to see them with the naked eye.