One morning in early July, I gazed out my patio door and noticed a small reddish blob smack in the middle of my tiger eyes sumac foliage. When I went out to investigate, I found that Tiger Eyes had given birth to Bob.
My tiger eyes (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ Tiger Eyes) is about four years old. So apparently, she has reached sufficient maturity to produce clusters of drupes, known as “bobs.” My tree is currently 5 feet high by 4.5 feet high, and will reportedly grow up to 6 feet high and wide. Bob, on the other hand, is 4 inches high. He’s an only child.
Tiger eyes is late to leaf out (early May in Fort Collins), but when it does, it creates a dazzling display of lacy golden leaves that turn orange/red in the fall. You can use it as a specimen, accent, or even as a hedge. It’ll grow in both full sun and part shade.
Because the plant suckers gently, I plant it in unamended heavy clay soil to discourage suckering. I also don’t water it unless it looks particularly droopy. You’ll read all kinds of advice online about keeping it watered, but I’ve found that this plant is incredibly xeric. I’ve got one growing in the rock bed at the side of my house. It gets no supplemental water, but it does just fine, as long as it has good drainage.
The suckers are easy to dig up for removal. Because tiger eyes is patented until 2024 (20 years from its introduction date), it’s currently illegal to transplant the suckers.
About three years ago, borers attacked two of my tiger eyes sumacs. On one sumac, the borers went into the base of the main trunk. So I cut the plant down and planted the root ball in a pot for a few months to see what would happen. Eventually, leaves and stems began emerging from the root ball, so I planted the root ball back into my garden, where the new plant has taken off. Other than the borer attacks, my sumacs have been trouble-free.
Getting back to Bob, I should point out that he has culinary uses. You can clean, dry, and grind up his berries to make a spice rub for lamb, fish and chicken. You can also sprinkle the ground berries on salad or hummus. These little orbs are loaded with antioxidants.
You can even use Bob’s berries to make sumac red lemonade. Check out the recipe in Farmers’ Almanac.
So as you can tell, Bob isn’t just a pretty face. He’s an important nutrition provider for humans. And although his berries aren’t a favorite among wild life, they still provide food for survival.