The Sumac itself is not a well-known variety for bonsai. The first reason is that most people act shocked when you mention Sumac because the first thing that comes to mind is Poison Sumac. While Poison Sumac is some nasty stuff the type of Sumac I used is not poisonous at all. Let me introduce you to “Tiger-Eye Sumac! Tiger-eye is very similar to its cousin Staghorn Sumac which is very abundant here in the Northeast United States. I suggest researching Staghorn Sumac or Smooth Sumac. You will be amazed to the number of uses for this tree such as making clothing dyes, medicinal uses, using the fruit to make a lemonade-like drink and so on.
Sumac trees tend to grow in clumps (usually propagates by root suckers), are leggy and don’t get standard branch ramification like you would on most other deciduous tree species. Typically they have a few main branches that are spaced out towards the crown of the tree and the leaf buds directly from the main branch and in a long alternate compound leaf structure. Unless the tree decides it needs a new branch in that area, once winter starts the tree will drop all those compound leaf stems and only have the few main branches. Because it drops the entire leaf stem at the axis along the branch, this is why it does not get a ramified branch structure like the average deciduous tree does. The Tiger-Eye Sumac is a cultivar of the Staghorn sumac mostly for its amazing leaf color.
Now on to my tree!
Straight from the nursery! This tree was in the “sale” section for half price. It was only $17 however, I was blessed that I just so happened to be there with my parents and they decided to buy it for me :). So technically, a free tree.
Close up of the nebari. Not too bad at all! The opposite side is not as nice as this side but there are surface roots that will thicken up in time and balance the tree out.
The following 3 pics show the different stages of the bark maturity for the species.
Youngest growth at tips with buds. The young growth is brown and furry.
Middle aged growth starts to grey and smooth over. You can still see small hairs on the bark.
Old mature growth is smooth, grey and no longer has the hairs.
The tree is tilting in the nursery pot so this shows the angle i want to re-plant it at. More or less at a simple upright angle.
The following 3 pics show old prune scars on the trunks. To give these trees shape and to control the growth, the “cut n grow” method is used. I will eventually try to clean these ares up so they are not as bad-looking.
To keep the height of the tree where I want it, it’s as simple as just snipping off the tops and in the future just continue to cut back any new growth. There are 4 branches all cut to different heights.
Cut tops. They secrete a sticky white sap when cut. Could not find any info about the sap being poisonous (like a Ficus) or anything but some people may get irritated skin if touched. Just use caution in case you have sensitive skin.
Out of the nursery pot.
Close-up of the nebari.
Roots raked out. There was one big root that had to go. Sumac are hardy trees that respond very well to any pruning and root work. Pruning should be done in winter/late winter to reduce sap loss. They typically grow in elevated areas along roadsides so they are not picky about soil conditions.
Pot that I will be using for this tree. I think the red looks good against the grey bark and once the tree gets leaves it will look awesome do to the color of the leaves.
Potted in new pot with some good bonsai soil.
Close-up of the nebari on the trees right side in the new pot and soil.
Close-up of the nebari on the trees left side in the new pot and soil. As you can see the nebari isn’t as thick on this side but the spread and the potential is there.
A little time goes by and the buds break open and the beginning of fresh leaves emerge. The top always buds first but there are plenty of other buds along the trunk that will open. Ones that are to low will be trimmed back.
Close-up of the amazing new leaves color. They start out as a reddish/green mix and once mature will be a bright green. The best part is the fall color. The leaves will turn yellow, orange, red and look like the tree top is on fire. Absolutely beautiful! You can count on an updated future post for this tree so everyone can see its beauty.
Thanks for reading:)
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