32 x 24 in | 81.3 x 61 cm
Carl Linnaeus, the famous botanist and father of the modern classification system of plants, remarked that the branches of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) look like deer antlers in velvet. That’s in winter. In the fall our attention would surely focus on the spectacular show of leaves when they turn almost every color in the rainbow. I was so taken with the range and variation of these colors that I decided to paint them very close up, focusing on leaves rather than branches. Sumacs have compound leaves—each leaf has many little leaflets joined to a single stem. Surprisingly, each of these leaflets can take on a different fall color. And not only that, with this painting I observed something even more amazing: each leaflet can be one color on the outside and another on the inside!
The inner sides of the leaves are pale yellow and green, a beautiful complement to the pinks on the outside. My daughter chose these pale greens and pinks for her wedding theme. Botanically, the greens are pale because the chlorophyll is being drawn out of the leaves along with other valuable nutrients as the tree prepares to shed them in fall. Not all of the chlorophyll has gone, however. There was enough left to provide the energy for production of large quantities of anthocyanins (the red pigments), but the process requires bright light and warmth during the day and cold nights. The bright light fuels the chlorophyll, which provides the energy for the process, and the cold nights trap the remaining sugars in the leaf providing raw material from which the pigments are made. Since the outsides of the leaves receive more light than the inner sides, they develop stronger reds. You can read more about leaf color in my favorite book on trees, “Trees: Their Natural History” by Peter A. Thomas.