Plant Profile: Tiger Eyes Sumac

Staghorn sumac is a large treelike shrub native to the eastern edge of Minnesota, Wisconsin and much of southeastern Canada. Tall with an umbrella habit as it matures, stagorn or cutleaf sumac is a great choice for larger, wilder landscapes. Birds love it and the fruits can be used for everything from dyes to lemonade. But it has a few characteristics home gardeners resent: It is large (16-feet-tall by 20 feet wide), it sends up sprouts everywhere and (as I well know) a mature staghorn sumac can be easily uprooted in high winds.

A bank of Tiger Eyes sumac adds striking contrast to evergreens and rocks nearby.

A bank of Tiger Eyes sumac adds striking contrast to evergreens and rocks nearby.

With these disadvantages in mind, breeders created Tiger Eyes™ sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’), a chartruese-leaved, shorter variety that adds a striking presence to foundation beds and other garden spaces. The bright color of Tiger Eyes makes it a perfect focal point or use a row or clump of them to draw the eye toward a section of the garden. Its horizontal form makes it a good addition to Asian-influenced garden areas. In addition to the chartreuse to gold color it has in summer, Tiger Eyes has a bright reddish orange color in fall.

Tiger Eyes grow to about 6 feet tall and about that wide in an ideal situation. The plants like sun to part-sun and tolerate dry soil well. Some sources list it as hardy to USDA Zone 4, but other Minnesota-based sources, say it is hard to zone 3, so this may be a good bet for northern Minnesota gardeners, too.

It’s important to maintain a regular watering schedule when the plants are getting established during the first year after planting. Like the species staghorn sumac, Tiger Eyes has a shallow root system and benefits from some mulch, especially at first. It does not do well in very clay soil, so if that is what you have, you may want to amend the soil carefully or choose another shrub.

Tiger Eyes has no significant pest problems. It does sucker a bit, but not nearly as much as the larger form of sumac. You also may need to prune it to maintain the desired shape. This can be done in late winter when you can see the shrub’s form clearly.

Tiger Eyes is a medium-sized shrub with striking color and interesting form. It would be a great addition to many garden styles and spaces.

 

 

16 Comments

  1. Holly Hoffmaster on May 20, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    I planted one 2 years ago and it has a number of volunteers coming up, can I dig them up and replant them where I actually want them?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 21, 2018 at 5:24 pm

      You sure can. Be sure to get some roots and keep them watered the first season.

      • Sally Eckhoff on June 6, 2019 at 12:34 am

        I’ve had my Tigers Eye Sumac for 3 years and it’s done very well – about 5’ tall and full of new leaves until this spring. It’s sprouting new leaves from the base but the existing large branches are not blooming but they’re fuzzy which tells me they’re still alive. Can anyone tell me what to expect?

        • Mary Lahr Schier on June 6, 2019 at 7:30 pm

          Sally — You don’t mention where you are located. Tiger Eyes is hardy to zone 4a, so as far north as St. Cloud, MN. It sounds like it might have gotten nipped by the cold. I’d give it a bit more time, but it may not make it. Good luck!

          • E on June 9, 2019 at 8:45 pm

            I have the same issue with mine, Sally. I know it’s alive, just not sprouting at the ends of the branches-but the base and trunk are. I am in Anoka and I have other tiger eyes that are just fine.

            Mary-can the branches be pruned to allow for the plant to grow? Or will than do damage?



          • Sally Eckhoff on June 9, 2019 at 10:55 pm

            Thanks for your response Mary. I live 35 miles north of Alexandria MN and it was extremely cold last winter so you’re no doubt correct about it getting nipped. I really liked that Tigers Eye!



  2. Jenifer Horne on August 11, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    I planted one last fall, and it is gorgeous this year. The trunk is about an inch plus in diameter, and is leaning toward the sidewalk. Is there a smart way to get it to grow a bit more vertically without damage?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on August 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      Jenifer — I have one that is leaning, too. You could try putting a stake near it and tying it up. Is it getting enough sun? That might also cause it to lean a bit. Good luck!

      • Jenifer on September 1, 2018 at 12:05 am

        Thanks for the idea. It is on the east side of the house. Could it be transplanted to somewhere more sunny?

        • Mary Lahr Schier on September 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm

          Yes, you could transplant it if it is not too large.

  3. LM on June 22, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    I planted one of these several weeks ago to replace one I’d had for two years that was damaged over winter either by cold or deer or both. The new one, basically just a stick, was leafing out nicely, but now I see that the upper growth is gone and it only has a few leaves left near the bottom. Deer again or some other pest? This is located in some landscaping I had done a few summers ago at our lake home near Erskine, MN. Is there hope for this growing and thriving here or am I fighting an uphill battle?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on June 24, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      If you planted it this spring, my guess is deer. It may be tough to get these to thrive in your area as it is on the edge of the range for Tiger Eyes.

  4. Melissa on September 10, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    We live in Northfield, MN. With watering and mulching, is this a suitable time of year to plant the Tiger Eyes in an area of the back yard, or is the risk too great for winter damage that I should plan for late spring planting?
    Thanks-

    • Mary Lahr Schier on September 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      Yes, now is a great time to plant shrubs.

  5. Anita Gille on September 16, 2019 at 10:21 am

    My tiger eye thrives in Duluth, Mn and I have so many suckers, I’m considering bringing one in to try as a houseplant. Has that been tried before?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on September 16, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      I’ve never heard of growing sumac as a houseplant, but they are very hardy, so who knows? It’s worth a try.

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