Friday, October 21, 2011

Tiger Eye Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac

Friday, October 21, 2011

Already 8 PM here on the mountain. My late afternoon nap was interrupted by the ring of the phone and the bark of Karl the Wonder Dog and things have been pretty much a constant interruption since. It was one of those questionable weather days but perfect for outside work for me while Gail stayed inside and caught up on cooking for the weekend. I rose long before daybreak this morning and by noon had been to Montpelier, Barre, and into the woods for wood cutting. I had late lunch at 3 and was snoozing by 4. Retirement is good, interruptions, less so.

For days now I have been thinking about offering some thoughts about sumac. I love to see sumac in the fall and single, colorful sumac leaves, pendant from soft, brown stems, always remind me for some reason of a puffin on the Maine coast, sitting on a seaweed covered rock ledge with a minnow hanging from its beak.

Back here in Vermont, thoughts of sumac include deer munching on the seeds and birds eating away as they prepare for winter. The red of the leaves is a foliage season standout and some folks even pick the drupes--the little red seeds in clusters-- and cook them lightly (no boil) to make a beautiful red liquid for coloring jellies.

I have to laugh when visitors to Vermont catch a glimpse of a row of run-away sumacs along our property line by the Winooski River. The bright red after the first frosts is highly visible from Route 2, two hundred yards away but that doesn't stop the cameras from clicking a bit later. Very few gardeners would ever consider planting this sumac in their own gardens as it has a bad reputation for spreading underground and turning up everywhere. It will never be as nasty as Japanese knotweed but it has a manner of latching on to your land and your neighbor's that conjures up a word of caution.

The plant world is ever changing and each year more and more plants are offered up, some new plants, some old plants with new names. Three years ago while visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay I noticed an impressive planting of sumac. The plants were 4 feet tall and not quite that wide when I visited and the bright yellows showed prominently from the raised planting. I was impressed as its color, texture, height and width made me visualize lots of planting opportunities. Trouble was, at that point I knew the plant no better than those who included it in the garden. (My opinion, no offense offered)

This sumac was Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger' also known as Tiger Eye Sumac, Tigers Eyes Sumac, Tiger Eye Cutleaf Sumac and Tiger Eye Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac. Plant names are confusing that way and you can often be wrong with a name for no good reason. In this case, the "eyes" don't have it as it's Tiger Eye.

As you can see from the picture up top, the plant is a standout and an attention getter. At the botanical garden it was planted alongside a mass of rudbeckias and the contrast was captivating. My mention of it here is not to discourage but to caution you that planting 'Bailtiger' will require work to keep it in control. In my opinion, this is not a plant to encourage neighborly friendships and to end this thought I'll just leave a portion of Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall (1915). You figure out the rest.

There where it is we do not need the wall;
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where it's 46° and quiet, save for a 4 mph breeze. If you listen you can hear the big critters of the forest crunching apples in the back meadow.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm
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1 comment:

Katie Jo said...

Thanks for saving us some neighborly disputes! We bought a Tiger Eye hoping it would be a nice addition to the corner of our yard...maybe we'll just put it in a container...