Three-leaf Sumac

Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata, Photo courtesy Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata
Photo courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Many think of the desert as a hot, dry, barren, and unforgiving place. However, Utah’s deserts are chock full of interesting and diverse plants and animals! One such plant, which grows throughout much of Utah, is rhus trilobata or three-leaf sumac.

Three-leaf sumac is a widespread deciduous shrub in the Rhus genus, meaning “with three leaflets,” or “trifoliate leaves.” Others in this genus include Rhus aromoatica and the infamous western poison oak. The leaves of this shrubby-type plant are toothed, feel stiff and they give off quite a strong scent when crushed. The strong smell of crushed three-leaf sumac leaves has earned it the nickname “skunkbush” as well as “ill-scented sumac.”

Three-leaf sumac is a low spreading, many-branched deciduous shrub, usually no more than 3 feet high but spreading as much as 8 feet wide. The small, trifoliate leaves and the branches are fuzzy. Given its many branches, three-leaf sumac provides both nesting material and structure for native bees. Flowers are yellowish and found in clustered spikes. They are followed by bright crimson to reddish, sticky berries. The fall foliage adds an extra pop of color to the landscape.

Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata, Photo courtesy Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata
Photo courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Historically, three-leaf sumac has been used for medicinal and other purposes. The bark can be chewed or brewed into a drink for cold symptoms. Flexible branches were traditionally used for twisting into basketry and rugs. In fact, three-leaf sumac was a close contender to willow in desirability for basket-making. This common use of the plant earned it another nickname of “basketbush.”

My favorite part of three-leaf sumac, however, are the slightly hairy and sticky berries. Although historically eaten for gastrointestinal pain and toothache, the berries have a delicious sour flavor and can be eaten plain or used in oatmeal, ice cream, steeped in tea, or soaked in cold water to make a beverage similar to lemonade. These berries are high in vitamin C and have earned three-leaf sumac the additional nicknames of “sourberry” “lemonade bush” and “lemonade berry.” Other nicknames for this multi-purpose plant include squawbush, desert sumac, or scented sumac.

Regardless of which nickname you choose for three-leaf sumac, give the berries a try and see for yourself what you think! Be sure, however, that you properly identify the plant to avoid potential illness that can be caused by misidentification! One great resource that can help is the field guide “Rocky Mountain States: Wild Berries & Fruits.”

Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata, Photo courtesy Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata
Photo courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
For Utah State University Extension Sustainability, this is Roslynn Brain.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, http://www.nwplants.com/business/catalog/rhu_tri.html,
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Text:     Roslynn Brain, Utah State University Extension Sustainability


Additional Reading:

Rhus trilobata, Three-leaf Summac, Plants of the Southwest, https://plantsofthesouthwest.com/products/rhus-trilobata?variant=11501394117

Rhus trilobata, Three-leaf Summac, Plant Database, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA, http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=rhtr

Rhus trilobata, Three-leaf Summac, Lady Bird Johnson WildflowerCenter, University of Texas at Austin, http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=RHTR

Three-Leaf Sumac (Rhus trilobata)

Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata, Photo courtesy Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata
Photo courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Many think of the desert as a hot, dry, barren, and unforgiving place. However, Utah’s deserts are chock full of interesting and diverse plants and animals! One such plant, which grows throughout much of Utah, is rhus trilobata or three-leaf sumac.

Three-leaf sumac is a widespread deciduous shrub in the Rhus genus, meaning “with three leaflets,” or “trifoliate leaves.” Others in this genus include Rhus aromoatica and the infamous western poison oak. The leaves of this shrubby-type plant are toothed, feel stiff and they give off quite a strong scent when crushed. The strong smell of crushed three-leaf sumac leaves has earned it the nickname “skunkbush” as well as “ill-scented sumac.”

Three-leaf sumac is a low spreading, many-branched deciduous shrub, usually no more than 3 feet high but spreading as much as 8 feet wide. The small, trifoliate leaves and the branches are fuzzy. Given its many branches, three-leaf sumac provides both nesting material and structure for native bees. Flowers are yellowish and found in clustered spikes. They are followed by bright crimson to reddish, sticky berries. The fall foliage adds an extra pop of color to the landscape.

Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata, Photo courtesy Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata
Photo courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Historically, three-leaf sumac has been used for medicinal and other purposes. The bark can be chewed or brewed into a drink for cold symptoms. Flexible branches were traditionally used for twisting into basketry and rugs. In fact, three-leaf sumac was a close contender to willow in desirability for basket-making. This common use of the plant earned it another nickname of “basketbush.”

My favorite part of three-leaf sumac, however, are the slightly hairy and sticky berries. Although historically eaten for gastrointestinal pain and toothache, the berries have a delicious sour flavor and can be eaten plain or used in oatmeal, ice cream, steeped in tea, or soaked in cold water to make a beverage similar to lemonade. These berries are high in vitamin C and have earned three-leaf sumac the additional nicknames of “sourberry” “lemonade bush” and “lemonade berry.” Other nicknames for this multi-purpose plant include squawbush, desert sumac, or scented sumac.

Regardless of which nickname you choose for three-leaf sumac, give the berries a try and see for yourself what you think! Be sure, however, that you properly identify the plant to avoid potential illness that can be caused by misidentification! One great resource that can help is the field guide “Rocky Mountain States: Wild Berries & Fruits.”

Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata, Photo courtesy Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, Licensed Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Three-Leaf-Sumac Rhus-trilobata
Photo courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
For Utah State University Extension Sustainability, this is Roslynn Brain.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy Hansen’s Northwest Native Plant Database, nwplants.com, http://www.nwplants.com/business/catalog/rhu_tri.html,
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
Text:     Roslynn Brain, Utah State University Extension Sustainability


Additional Reading:

http://www.plantsofthesouthwest.com/Three-Leaf-Sumacbri-Rhus-trilobata/productinfo/S2770/

Rainwater Harvesting

Click to view Moab Charter School Permaculture Garden, Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer
Permaculture Garden
Moab Charter School
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer



Click to view Moab Charter School Permaculture Rain Garden, Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, PhotographerBefore and After
Permaculture Rain Garden
USU Moab
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer



Click to view Rain Tank with Basins and Overflow Swales, Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, PhotographerRain Tank with
Basins and Overflow Swales
Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Ctr
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer



Click to view Rain Water Storage Tank, Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, PhotographerRain Water Storage Tank
Private Residence in New Mexico
Installed by Jeff Adams of Terrasophia
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer



Click to view Development, Permaculture Rain Garden, USU Logan, Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, PhotographerDevelopment
Permaculture Rain Garden
USU Logan
Photo Courtesy & © Roslynn Brain, Photographer

A common saying in the west is “Whiskey is for drinkin’ and water is for fightin.’” As drought forecasts and associated water scarcity grow, many are turning towards water harvesting as a way to not only save money, but to also be more self sufficient. In Utah, thanks to a revised House Bill 36 in 2013, residents on any parcel of land can install a rainwater harvesting system and use that water on the same parcel. The total volume of rainwater that can be harvested is 2,500 gallons. Containers are recommended to be covered, primarily to reduce mosquito outbreaks, and can be above or below ground.

So how do you go about installing a rainwater harvesting system?

First, analyze your landscape and estimate your water needs by doing a water budget calculation. The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program has a landscape water budget tool that you can use to help determine your water needs. This is calculated as gallons per month based on your landscaped area, plant types, and associated water demand per plant type. In Brad Lancaster’s book, Rainwater Harvesting For Drylands and Beyond volume 1, you can find formulas for calculating how much rainwater your roof can yield, based on yearly or monthly rainfall. This can also be found in USU Extension’s permaculture fact sheet. Once you have these two numbers – your approximate landscape water demand, and the approximate rainwater your roof can provide per year, you can better estimate a practical size for your rainwater container – also called a tank or cistern. Also consider the room you have, likelihood of using harvested water, and ease of use, in addition to your landscape needs.

Now you are ready to either purchase or build your rainwater harvesting system. Remember, each tank needs an overflow and that overflow should ideally be aimed towards plants with higher water needs. For recommendations on how to install and or build rainwater harvesting containers in Utah search “Rain Barrels in Utah” through USU Extension.

If you are putting in new landscaping, search Water Harvesting Earthworks for ideas of how to design in a way that best slows, spreads, and sinks rainwater. Or look up “Plant the Water before the Tree” by the Watershed Management Group as a starting point.

No matter what size of tank you choose to install, the beauty lies in actually using harvested water from your tank, especially during periods of drought.

As watershed management consultant Jeff Adams says, “It is what you can fill, fit and afford based on your patterns of use.”

This is Roslynn Brain of Utah State University Extension Sustainability.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Roslynn Brain, Photographer
Text:     Roslynn Brain, Extension.usu.edu


Additional Reading:

Watersense, Environmental Protection Agency http://www3.epa.gov/watersense/

Lancaster, Brad, Rainwater Harvesting Drylands and Beyond, http://www.amazon.com/Rainwater-Harvesting-Drylands-Beyond-2nd/dp/0977246434/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1445316738&sr=1-1&keywords=rainwater+harvesting+for+drylands+and+beyond

Plant the Water Before the Tree – Help Your Tree Grow and Thrive with Rainwater!, Watershed Management Group, https://watershedmg.org/document/plant-water-tree-help-your-tree-grow-and-thrive-rainwater

Rain Barrels in Utah, USU Extension, http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1746&context=extension_curall

Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, Photographer
Yellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, PhotographerYellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, PhotographerYellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

Yellow-bellied Marmots, Photo courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain PhotographerYellow-bellied Marmots
Photo courtesy and copyright
Roslynn Brain, Photographer

If you have explored the mountains of Utah, you’ve inevitably heard the iconic high-pitched chirp associated with Utah’s Yellow-Bellied Marmot.

Sporting chubby cheeks, large front teeth, a reddish-brown tail that spins like a helicopter rotor when fleeing, a greyish-brown back, white patch of fur between the eyes, and a yellow-orange belly, these sun-loving, flower-chewing mammals exude a Buddhist-type nature, especially when compared to their frantic neighbors, the pika.

Yellow-bellied marmots belong to the mammalian order Rodentia, in the squirrel family Scirudae. This family includes all species of prairie dog, chipmunk, and the woodchuck. Marmots fall under the genus “marmota.” The scientific name of yellow-bellied marmots is “Marmota flaviventris.” Although the origin of the term marmota is not certain, one accepted interpretation stems from a similar Latin word meaning “mountain mouse.” Flaviventris means “yellow belly” in Latin.

There are 15 species of marmot worldwide, all in the northern hemisphere. Most live in mountainous areas such as the Alpine marmot found only in Europe, though some live in rough grasslands. Although commonly believed to be in the same genus, the prairie dog is not classified in the genus Marmota, but in the related genus Cynomys.

When alarmed, yellow-bellied marmots emit a shrill whistle which earned them the nickname “whistle pigs,” by early settlers. Sometimes they make a “chucking” sound, which could explain another nickname, “rock chuck.” Additional monikers for marmots include “whistlers”, “mountain marmots”, and “snow pigs.”

Yellow-bellied marmots live at average elevations of 6,000-13,000 feet throughout western North America. They are often found in highland meadows and steppes, and almost always near rocks. Burrows are usually constructed in areas with plentiful plants which comprise the marmot’s main diet: herbaceous grasses and forbs, flowers, legumes, grains, fruits, and insects. Marmots spend the summer months sunning on warm rocks and fattening up in preparation for winter hibernation which can last up to 8 months.Thus, they are especially plump in the fall, right before hibernation, and reach weights of around 8-11 pounds. They may also estivate in June in response to dry conditions and a lack of green vegetation, only to reappear later in the summer when food is once again plentiful.

The typical social structure of yellow-bellied marmots includes a single male with a range of one up to four females. Males are territorial and aggressively protect their harem from other male marmots and smaller predators such as the ermine. Other predators to the yellow-bellied marmot include coyotes, foxes, badgers, bears, and eagles. Females raise their annual offspring of 3-8 jointly with other females within the harem. Baby marmots or pups are born relatively undeveloped and require large amounts of care until they emerge from the nest three weeks later. Only about half of marmot pups survive and become yearlings. If they make it through the first year, marmots may live up to 15 years of age.

Given that they spend about 80% of their life in a borrow, 60% of which is in hibernation, consider yourself lucky the next time you encounter a chubby, sun-bathing, whistling marmot!

For Utah State University Extension Sustainability, this is Roslynn Brain.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and copyright Roslynn Brain, Photographer
Text:     Roslynn Brain, Utah State University Extension Sustainability


Additional Reading:

Yellow-bellied Marmot, Utah Conservation Data Center, Division of Wildlife Resources, State of Utah Natural Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/search/Display.asp?FlNm=marmflav

Marmot Burrow, UCLA, Daniel Blumstein, http://www.marmotburrow.ucla.edu/watching.html

Marmot, Rocky Mountain National Park, http://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/nature/marmot.htm

Yellow-bellied Marmot (Rockchuck), Deseret News, 14 Mar, 1998,
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/629775/Yellow-bellied-Marmot-Rockchuck.html