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Tiger Eyes Sumac
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter


Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at

August 15, 2010

Every once in a while, an amazing plant will show up – one that can really electrify your garden. Who ever thought it could be a sumac tree? Well, a new sumac variety is causing quite a stir around the world.

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’™ (Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac) was introduced in 2004 by Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota. In just one year, this stunning plant has gained much attention across America and Europe. Botanical gardens across the country are using ‘Tiger Eyes’ in large decorative containers and in their Japanese gardens. Garden writers and horticulturists, far and wide, are thrilled with this plant. ‘Tiger Eyes’ received the Gold Medal at the Plantarium in the Netherlands and won ‘Best New Plant’ at GLEE, one of the largest horticultural trade shows in England.

The new growth on ‘Tiger Eyes’ is a vivid chartreuse green that changes to a bright yellow in summer - a yellow that doesn’t dim even in the brightest sun. Its leaf stems are a fuzzy purplish-pink and form a dramatic contrast with the lemon-lime foliage. Its branches angle upward while its deeply cut leaflets drape downward, giving the whole plant an elegant, Oriental look. As beautiful as ‘Tiger Eyes’ is in the summer, its colors are absolutely magnificent in the fall, turning a luminous combination of yellow, orange and intense scarlet.

Hardy and easy to grow, ‘Tiger Eyes’ differs from other sumacs in a number of ways. The most obvious is its small size, reaching a manageable height and width of just six feet. Another major difference is that it spreads slowly and should not be considered invasive. ‘Tiger Eyes’ prefers full to part sun, is not particular about soil type and best of all, is quite drought tolerant once established. It is hardy in zones four to eight.

The bold architectural quality of ‘Tiger Eyes’ lends itself to a wide variety of garden situations. It is pretty enough to showcase in a great big pot all by itself; is particularly fitting in a Japanese style garden; is stunning planted en masse; is perfect for peripheral areas, giving privacy and good a habitat for wildlife; makes a perfect transitional shrub between ‘wild’ and ‘tame’ areas of the landscape; and makes an equally strong statement near the back of a perennial border. Its yellow summer color mixes well with perennials such as purple salvias, orange daylilies or red monarda, just to name a very few. Imagine the impact of ‘Tiger Eyes’ combined with asters in a fall border! If that isn’t enough, in winter its great structural form is ideal for adding clear lights to brighten up a dreary landscape.

We’ve used ‘Tiger Eyes’ in our gardens for just a few months now, and we love this plant! It is so easy to care for and yet makes such a dramatic contribution to numerous garden settings.

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