sumac

environmentally-friendly christmas tree

There are three good things about winter pruning deciduous trees: the leaves have fallen and it’s easy to see the shape of your trees and shrubs; it will promote faster regrowth in the spring; and you get to make a stunning, unique holiday tree!

If you haven’t got trees in need of a quick cut, maybe you have friends with trees (FWT)…

The staghorn sumac trees in our yard carry beautiful burgundy seed tips on upper branches. I mix them up with whatever needs a prune from year to year. The stark beauty and architecture of bare branches can be mesmerizing, and the seeds add a touch of drama.

The tree can be floor to ceiling, or on a table in a plant urn, in whatever shape nature gives you, in whatever space you have. Also, a smaller tree is a perfect project for kids.

You’ll need:

Assortment of deciduous branches
Plant pot or large container for base
Weights or large rocks for bottom of base
Burlap or fabric
Floral foam or styrofoam blocks
12-inch plastic cable ties (local hardwares sell them in packs)

Choose and prune your branches to the height desired.

I use a large wicker basket as my tree stand. I’ve learned the hard way to put my son’s free weights in the bottom (about 50 lbs); a too tall tree can fall over once decorated.

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Lay out your branches and stand upright, starting with the largest, in your plant pot, and surround with floral foam blocks to keep upright. Keep adding branches, stabilizing with foam, and joining lower branches together with cable ties.

When you are satisfied with the fullness of the tree, hide the base with fabric.

Decorate. I don’t use lights because the branches are often not strong enough to support them, but the small battery-operated fairy lights are lovely and light weight. I have a small floor spot light that I shine onto the tree to create shadows on the walls and ceiling.

Snowflake-shaped ornaments make beautiful shadows. Bird ornaments are lovely.

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Of course, this can be a tree for all holidays and seasons: Easter eggs and bird nests; Hanukkah dreidels and coins; or Halloween candy and spiders.

At the end of the season, cut up dry branches for kindling or mulch.

Warm wishes for the holidays,

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“The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

 

 

sumac lemonade

 

The stag horn sumac is stunning this time of year and I use the branches in floral urns and to make a recyclable Christmas tree (I’ll post how in December).

Until then, I wanted to share a quick recipe for sumac lemonade. We’re only talking about edible sumac here (Rhus glabra or Rhus typhina), the one with fuzzy red upright cones of berries. It’s called lemonade because of its tart citrus-meets-cranberry flavour and the Vitamin C content is high, too.

Avoid poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix); you’ll recognize it because the clusters of hard white berries grow downwards. The good news is that birds and squirrels can eat them without problems.

Pick the cones on a dry sunny day. Much of the flavour comes from a sticky substance on the berries that is washed away in the rain. Purists say not to wash the berries for the same reason—I prefer to shake them out well and give them a rinse under cold water, but it’s up to you.

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I usually place the berries in a clear pitcher so I can enjoy their beauty. Add one litre of cold water per four cones and let the mixture sit for a few hours. Don’t stir or squeeze the berries because this releases extra tannins and results in a more sour drink. Gently shaking the jar will release the flavour; leaving the jar in the sun may speed up the process.

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Strain the lemonade through a colander to remove the berries, and then through a coffee filter to remove the fine hairs that cover the berries. You can sweeten  with honey or maple syrup, but I prefer the tart refreshing lemonade as is, or over ice. This lemonade is a different colour every time I make it, ranging from light yellow to a deep pinkish amber, but the flavour is always delicious.

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GIFT IDEA: If you want to give a friend a gift of foraged tea, arrange some sumac and evergreen leaves (see earlier post on Evergreen Tisane) in a vase with the recipes. It’s a heart-warming way to bring the outdoors in.