The fall colors of Wyoming are subtle, not like the brilliantly brushed hardwood forests of the eastern US. The shades of autumn in the Rockies are more muted with the dark olive evergreens, purple-grey slates, and reddish sandstones providing the back drop for pockets of glowing aspen and roadside ribbons of burning rabbitbrush.
The fall season is when the common Rhus trilobata demands attention. The rest of the year, it is faithful, but nondescript. Its fall colors range from burnt umber to mahogany to scarlet. It weaves itself along the foothill drainages and gullies. I’ve seen it a single foot tall and wide and in large patches twelve feet in diameter, but it’s usually less than five feet high. It likes gravelly and sandy soil and thinks nothing of sub zero temperatures and hurricane force winds.
In my opinion Rhus is one of the most promising local native shrubs for landscape use
Rhus trilobata produces tart little drupes said to have been used by Native Americans and early pioneers to make a lemonade-like drink. If you’ve ever tasted one of these little ‘berries’ it’s hard to imagine drinking much of this lemonade, but it’s easy to imagine the ‘berries’ being used in pemmican or thrown into stews and soups.
Rhus is becoming easier to find in nurseries, but it’s still not what I would consider common. I plan on planting two of these shrubs out on my impossible corner which is really more like a sand dune moving toward the middle of the yard. But if I know Rhus trilobata, it’ll feel right at home.