Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a common shrub in central Ontario, and a species that I have been able to identify for a very long time. If you are from a rural area within its range you are most certainly already picturing its velvety stems which bear pinnately compound leaves and terminal clusters of hairy red fruits (below, left). These clusters persist through the winter and serve as a food source for birds.
Staghorn sumac looms large in my memory from a day in the Great Hall of Champlain College at Trent University. We were eating our meal plan lunch when one of our resident-mates, a vegan, arrived at the table with a fruit cluster he had picked on the Lady Eaton College drumlin. He proceeded to eat them while extolling their virtues as a food source for humans. He was a man ahead of his time; despite his kind offers no one else gave it a try, preferring instead to exchange amused glances.
Back in Ontario for an early start to Summer 2016, I recently noticed several Staghorn sumac stands with yellow flower clusters (below, right). I have been outside and around the campus of Trent University every day since my return, and I have watched these yellow flower clusters fade from bright yellow to dim yellow to virtually nothing but a yellow stalk. I have been waiting for the familiar red clusters to appear, and one day I finally noticed them, in a completely different stand! It has finally dawned on me that Staghorn sumac is dioecious! How did I miss this interesting fact for all these years? How delightful it is that my education has enabled me to piece this together for myself over 20 years later!
Note: In the time that it has taken me to decide to proudly display my botanical blog musings here at WordPress, Pokemon Go has been released in Canada. As such, I offer you the #PokemonIRL card for Staghorn sumac.
As a testament to how little we as a species know about other common species with which we share this planet, Staghorn sumac has yet to be assessed by the IUCN, though it does appear in the Catalogue of Life. Despite its relative abundance and ease of identification, all we can really tell you is that it exists. That being said, information does exist at the local level thanks to organizations like the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Imagine the myriad species we have missed that are either rare or elusive or both!