September 24, 2014

Brilliant Deceiver - Poison Sumac

Late September view of Heywood Meadow, an acidic fen in Walden Woods, with touches of orange poison sumac in the mid-ground

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) conceals itself in our local wetlands until its distinctive orange color blazes forth from bog mats and damp swampy shorelines in late September.  A more toxic relative to poison ivy, its compound leaves light up when its fruits ripen, signaling to foraging birds that another autumn feast is ready.  I've encountered poison sumac in a number of wetlands throughout Concord - Gowing's Swamp, Moore's Swamp, wetlands in Estabrook Woods, and here in Heywood Meadow, just south of Walden Pond - and expect that it thrives in many more.  It's easiest to spot when its compound, sumac leaves first emerge in spring and when it flashes its color early in the autumn foliage parade.  It's a brilliant deceiver...look but don't touch!

Poison sumac growing with tawny cotton sedge
Poison sumac's flaming color reveals its location across this boggy expanse

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