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.