Sumac Fruiting Strategy: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

If you're a plant needing birds to disperse your seeds, it's a good strategy to ripen your fruit when there are the maximum number of birds around. In North America, the fall migration is a perfect opportunity: thousands of hungry birds traveling long distances, eager to refuel by snacking on succulent fruit. Competition is stiff, though. Lots of plants ripen fruit in the fall, so how do you stand out from the crowd?

Some plants offer high quality fruits: juicy, sweet, and irresistible. Most of these get gobbled up fast, though there are drawbacks. Fruit not eaten immediately can go bad, and are then unlikely to be dispersed.

Most of the eastern US sumacs (ex. Rhus copallinum, R. glabra, R. typhina) use a different strategy. They, too, fruit in the fall, but make lower quality fruit: rather dry and without a lot of flesh to them, not very sweet, but with some fat content for energy (11-26% of their weight, according to Stiles (1980)). Initially, birds mostly ignore ...more ↓

Posted on April 03, 2022 07:58 PM by m_whitson m_whitson | 2 comments | Leave a comment
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If you garden for wildlife in the eastern US, then sumacs (genus Rhus) are a wonderful addition to your yard. These native shrubs make nectar-rich blooms for bees and other pollinators and then fruit for overwintering birds. They have attractive, usually ferny-looking leaves that are resistant to most herbivores, and gorgeous red fall color. After the leaves come off, the red fruit remain as ...more ↓

m_whitson created this project on March 31, 2022
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