Tag Archives: tiger eyes sumac

Meet Bob

This is Bob. He’s not just a pretty face. You can grind his berries up to make a meat rub, to sprinkle on hummus and salads, or to make sumac red lemonade.

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.

You can see Bob peeking out of the center of Tiger Eyes. Next year, he’ll likely have brothers and sisters.


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.

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Filed under Landscape Design, Plant Geekiness, Whimsy

Horrors! It’s Borers!

There’s the tell-tale hole where the borer entered the pith. Very bad news.

Last week while admiring my tiger eyes sumac, I noticed a hole in the pith in one of the stems.  Pith, in case you’re not aware, is the spongy material inside each stem.

I then examined the pith in two other stems that had been pruned before I bought the plant six weeks ago.  All three stems had a hole.

Omigaw! I realized that my baby tree was under attack by borers—currant borers, most likely, which attack currants, gooseberries and black elders, as well as sumacs.

According to Colorado State University, currant borers lay their eggs on the plant’s bark in June and early July.  Then the caterpillar larvae bore into the plant, drilling down into the pith and wood.  The nearly adult pest spends the winter in the base of the canes before pupating and later emerging as a full-grown adult in late May or early June.

Before I pruned it, the tree had two nice, leafy branches. Notice the two upright bare branches? That’s where the borers attacked. They also attacked at the lowest crotch of the tree.

Make no mistake—these bugs can kill the plant, if left untreated.

So I whipped out my pruners and began amputating lengths of branches until I reached non-holey pith.  The worst damage occurred on an auxiliary branch, where the borer had drilled all the way down that branch and into one of the tree’s two main branches.  I could even see the borer in the hole.  This meant I had to make the unkindest cut of all to save the plant’s life—removing a main leafy branch, leaving just one leafy branch on this 30-inch-tall tree.

It wasn’t easy, but I did what had to be done, disfiguring the tree in the process.  Fortunately, sumacs produce new branches relatively quickly, so I expect the plant to recover in the next couple of years.

After pruning, the looks disfigured, but the tree wlll likely grow plenty of new branches in the next couple of years. Notice the healthy pith where the branches have been cut. I sealed the cuts with fingernail polish.

I then sealed the three pruned canes with colored nail polish to prevent further infestation.  Some gardeners think sealing is unnecessary.  Personally, I seal canes larger than 1/8 inch.

Borers attack a broad range of trees and shrubs.  The most infamous borer in Colorado right now is the emerald ash borer (EAB), which began attacking ash trees in Boulder in 2013, and has spread to Longmont and Lafayette.  It’s just a matter of time before the EAB will reach Denver and Fort Collins.

Treatments for borers vary, depending the variety and size of a plant.  For information on borers and their treatment, visit Insects that Feed on Colorado Plants and Shrubs.

Next time you’re strolling through your garden, check pruned branches on your shrubs for borers.  Once the autumn leaves have fallen, pruned canes will be easier to spot.

As for trees, learn to recognize borer entrance and exit holes in the bark, so you can keep an eye out for borers there.

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