Sumac Bonsai

ImageI like unusual and bizarre plants and often use them to create unique bonsai. The Common sumac is a large shrub or small tree which can be found growing native throughout North America and other regions of the world. They are often considered weed trees with large compound leaves. In late summer the large upright flowers are fuzzy and become striking fruit. Autumn brings a reliable red, orange and yellow coloring which are quite beautiful.

There are numerous species related to the Common sumac, Rhus typhina, often used for medicinal, cooking or tanning. In Asia candle fuel was made from the Japanese wax tree, (Rhus succedanea), which is often trained for bonsai. Poison sumac (Rhus vernix), as well as Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron), can cause rashes to some people.

ImageJapanese wax tree, Rhus succedanea, trained by Hiroshi Takeyama, Fuyo-en Bonsai Garden, Omiya Bonsai Village, Japan.

There are several ornamental forms of sumac for planting in the garden landscape including Staghorn sumac, Cutleaf sumac, Fragrant sumac and smooth sumac.


Tiger Eyes Sumac

In 2007 a new hybrid sumac was introduced to the garden trade by Bailey’s Nursery named Tiger Eyes sumac, Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’. This patended cultivar received a Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. This colorful plant has bright chartreuse delicate foliage which is quite striking in the garden, especially in the sunlight which makes it glow. It suddenly becomes the focal point in the garden and again in autumn with glowing red and orange foliage. Summertime brings large upright fuzzy flowers which become colorful long lasting fruit. Tiger Eyes sumac is quite winter hardy and a bit invasive, spreading by underground rhizomes. I have found that it does not present an allergic reaction to people. The stems are like velvet and they do not branch out readily. Although described as a “dwarf” plant reaching a height of six feet, one of my garden specimens is already twelve feet tall, and still growing.

As mentioned I have discovered that Tiger Eyes sumac is invasive and have eliminated many of the new plants originating from rhizomes. Often the new shoots have a few roots and I’ve been successful in establishing them in small containers. In spring I used a small plant as the focal point in a small accessory for displaying with a bonsai.

Today my friend Marc Arpag came over to help me select the appropriate display table and companion plant for my RAF Dwarf Scots pine for the Midwest Bonsai Show next weekend. On his way over to my garden he stopped by a garden center to see what they had on sale. He was excited because they had two Tiger Eyes Sumac with interesting trunks and could possibly be used for an unusual bonsai specimen.

Off we returned to the garden center to see the two plants and one was already sold. Fortunately the plant with the beset shape was available, and with a 30% discount as well. I purchased the two gallon size specimen and Marc helped me take it to my car since my scooter could not hold that size plant. Also, on the way out we discovered a new gold banded grass which I had to have, so I pick up two pots, they were small.

Image Shopping for the Tiger Eyes Sumac, 2 pm.

Once home I proceeded to find the base of the roots, study the plant and create the basic shape for a future bonsai. This tree will be used for autumn display and will not have a refined appearance because of the coarse branching, although the foliage is delicate. I wired a few of the branches, and nearly every one of the twelve inch long leaves. Finally it was potted and I’m hoping it will develop into something different.

Image Tiger Eyes Sumac bonsai, 3:30 pm.

By the way the companion plant we selected for displaying with the RAF Dwarf Scots pine has a Tiger Eyes sumac as the focal point along with Toad Lily, Dwarf hosta and Black mondo grass.

Image Companion plant with a Tiger Eyes sumac focal point.