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Sumach (Rhue)

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Leaves turn orange red in autumn

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      04.04.2001 02:58
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      Will you rue having a Rhus in your garden, who knows... The Staghorn Sumach, or the Rhus typhina if you use it's proper name, is undoubtedly a beautiful tree when fully in bloom during the summer months. It's huge shredded lime green leaves pattern the garden with enticing shadows and its flowers, although unspectacular to look at, attract local bird life, particularly robins. The flowers grow in large clusters and are a rather dirty yellow colour, however in the main they are hidden by the huge leaves which the tree produces. Rhus typhina is the largest of the sumach family and is classed as a large shrub rather than a tree. It can however reach 30 - 40 ft in height with a 1ft base. It is extremely fast growing, but relatively short lived. If you love wildlife however, this tree is important not only to birds, but also to mammals which eat both the leaves and the later fruits from the tree. Unfortunately, however, this plant has a rather long and dormant winter season which lasts well into Spring and although the Rhus' autumn leaves (which range in colour from rich red to purple and even yellow and gold) are frequently lauded in Gardening Books, I personally find them very messy as they fall quickly, become very soggy and litter the garden. The leaf fall is then followed by the leaf stems which are sticky to handle, twig like and untidy. Certainly I would not recommend this tree be planted near to a waterfeature.Unfortunately I inherited my Rhus and it is located directly over my pond which I have to cover with netting in Autumn to prevent contamination of the water. The Rhus does however have architectural benefits in Winter as the branches really do resemble a stag's antlers as the name suggests. They are soft and downy to the touch and contain a sticky sap like substance which is often used by herbalists apparently in teas and medicines (although I would not like to try it). Apparently the sap
      has a lemon-like flavour, but I would not recommend using it on your pancakes! Additionally it can be used as a clothes dye, but again I have no experience of this. Sumach's are related to the Poison Ivy family and the sap can have an irritant effect on the skin, especially in people with a high sensitivity to such things. I personally am not affected by the sap, but it is worth bearing in mind if you have small children or animals who could be adversely affected. As far as planting is concerned. I would be inclined to plant this at the back of a border in between evergreen plants, as placed on its own it can look rather stark in the winter months. Another problem with this particular tree is that it spreads by shoots which grow from the roots. It therefore tends to spout up in places where you don't want it to - for example the lawn or in the middle of your prize specimen plants. I have tried digging these shoots up and replanting them, but for some reason they never take, despite the fact that I have dug them up at varying stages of growth. This tree would look well in a large pot if you could get the shoot to take,as in this way it could be moved during the winter months when it is uninteresting and replaced with another specimen. Bear in mind though it thrives better in a dry and sandy soil rather than in damp heavy clay so the pot would have to be well drained. In summary: This is a nice architectural plant which is extremely attractive in Summer, has beautiful but short lived autumn leaves, is beneficial for wildlife, but can often be problematic in other ways. Will you rue planting it......you must choose.

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