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David Beaulieu

My Quest for Poison Sumac

By January 25, 2013

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I know what you're asking yourself. "Why would he go out of his way to find poison sumac, when most people would go out of their way to avoid it?" But that's just it: to furnish my readers with pictures of this menace, in order to help them avoid it, I had to find some first, right?

poison sumac berriesGranted, as quests go, this one was hardly glamorous. There wasn't anything close to a Holy Grail awaiting me at the end of my endeavor. Nonetheless, it's not that easy to find poison sumac (which is probably a good thing, unless you're setting out on a quest for it). Even if you spend a lot of time outdoors, you could easily go your whole life without ever encountering it.

Why is that? Well, poison sumac is a swamp plant. So unless you make a habit of hanging out around swamps, it's elusive. And even then, you may never run into any. When I was younger, I was an avid collector of salamanders, a pursuit that brought me to many a swamp (they like wet areas). Yet I don't think I ever came across any poison sumac.

So in order to take pictures of poison sumac for this website, I had to go on a quest. I searched the web to determine where, exactly, poison sumac could be found in my native New England. A protected wetland in Andover, Massachusetts popped up in the search results. Armed with a Google map, I set out (by car) on my quest.

I located the site, parked my car, and discovered -- much to my delight -- that boardwalks had been built through this wetland. Easy access and no wet feet: my quest was proceeding quite nicely. Of course, it would have been all for naught if the web information had been wrong (the author could have misidentified the plants, for all I knew).

But happily, I located the plants in question, and they were, indeed, poison sumac. Not only that, but since my quest took place in autumn, they were wearing their fancy fall duds and festooned with their oddly-shaped berries (picture). I was very happy with the photos I was able to take.

I returned in spring to take more pictures, showing what the plants look like at another time of the year.

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Photo ©2008 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)

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