Tom's Blog

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sumac: chemical warfare?

I have made a number of earlier posts on sumac eradication (summarized in sumac biology and control,) but one area I have not discussed is allelopathy. The photo below shows part of a clone which had moved into what was once a well established prairie. The ground is completely bare, even though some sunlight is obviously available. It seems likely that there is some chemical explanation for this "sterile" soil surface.

There are a few published papers on sumac allelopathy. The most extensive work was done by Petranka and McPherson in Oklahoma with Rhus copallina (Ecology, 60: 956-965; 1979). A Google search using the search terms "Rhus" and "allelopathy" will bring up more papers, including a number published (in English) in China.

The toxins involved are supposed to be tannins, although detailed chemistry has apparently not been done. From an ecological point of view, the chemistry and plant physiology are not too critical. What is important is how long the substance remains active in the soil. My experience is that a former dense sumac clone will be colonized with some native species within a year, and with careful restoration work native prairie will be recovered within two years at most.

Sumac is a really bad invader. Once it takes a hold of an area, it is a four to five year job to get rid of it. See this post for details.


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