By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
An easy-care shrub in its native growing area, laurel sumacis a great choice for those looking for an attractive plant that’s bothcarefree and tolerant of wildlife. Let’s learn more about this fascinatingbush.
Native to North America, laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) is an evergreen shrub found in the coastal sageand chaparral along the coasts of Southern California and the Baja CaliforniaPeninsula. The plant was named for its resemblance to baylaurel, but the two trees are unrelated.
Laurel sumac reaches heights of 15 feet (5 m.). Clusters oftiny white flowers, similar to lilacs,bloom in late spring and summer. The leathery, fragrant leaves are shiny green,but the leaf edges and tips are bright red year round. Clusters of tiny whitefruit ripen in late summer and remain on the tree well into winter.
Like many plants, laurel sumac was put to good use by NativeAmericans, who dried the berries and ground them into flour. A tea made fromthe bark was used to treat dysentery and certain other conditions.
According to California history, early orangegrowers planted trees where laurel sumac grew because the presence oflaurel sumac guaranteed the young citrus trees wouldn’t be nipped by frost.
Today, laurel sumac is used mostly as a landscape plant inchaparral gardens. This drought-tolerant shrub is attractive to birds,wildlife, and beneficialinsects. It generally isn’t damaged by deeror rabbitseither.
Growing laurel sumac is easy in the mild climates of USDAplant hardiness zones 9 and 10. This plant is not frost-tolerant. Here is somebasic growing information for laurel sumac care:
Nearly any soil works well for growing laurel sumac,including clay or sand. Laurel sumac is happy in partial shade or fullsunlight.
Water laurel sumac regularly throughout the first growingseason. Thereafter, supplemental irrigation is needed only when summers areparticularly hot and dry.
Laurel sumac generally requires no fertilizer. If growthseems weak, provide a general-purpose fertilizer once every year. Don’tfertilize in late summer or fall.
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Poison sumac (Rhus vernix) grows in damp and swampy wooded areas in the Southeast, as well as in some pockets of the Northeast. The Rhus genus, which includes poison ivy and poison oak, is native to North America. It's sometimes classified as Toxicodendron, meaning "poison tree" in Greek. If you find this plant on your property, you'll want to get rid of it to avoid contracting an itchy and debilitating rash.
On each stem, poison sumac has five to 13 leaves, which are smooth around the edges. The plant's stems are red, and its leaves are green in the summer and yellow to red in the fall. It has green berries that turn white in the fall and grow in small clusters on individual stems.
According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, some types of sumac require regular watering during their establishment periods, in particular during the plants' growing seasons. They should get around 1 inch of water per week applied to their root zones, which spread two times as wide as their canopy. They may require more irrigation during periods of drought. Generally, sumac species can handle poor soil, so they should not need much fertilizer at all.
Caring for and growing sumac plants has many benefits in the garden beyond the aesthetic value they bring. Staghorn sumac, for example, provides nectar for various species of butterflies. It also acts as a host for the larvae of the azure butterfly, and it is a friend to a great variety of environmentally important and beautiful species. Their fruit can also act as food for bluebirds and robins among others. They also provide shelter for many species of birds.
Most sumacs are not picky, and will tolerate a range of growing conditions. They will grow in full sun to partial shade. They tolerate a range of soil types, and usually are tolerant of dry soil. Some, like the African sumac, are even highly tolerant of drought conditions. Flameleaf sumac naturally prefers moist, well-drained soil but can adapt to areas that are quite rocky. To grow informal hedges or wild colonies from shrubbing sumacs, allow plants to sucker.