Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Introducing: Plants of Promise

I am pleased to introduce a new weekly feature here at Growing Is Beautiful called Plants of Promise! I thought everyone (including myself) might enjoy a little lighter fare here on my blog intermixed with all the heavy and emotional things I am processing through my writing, and this seemed like a perfect way to start. Besides, I have quite a love of plants and I am very excited to have the opportunity to share about my favorites. So without further ado, my first Plant of Promise:
Latin Name: Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'
Common Name: Tiger Eyes™ Cutleaf Staghorn Sumac
Description: Dwarf deciduous tree reaching 6' H x 6' W
Cultivation: Full sun, drought tolerant, hardy to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
Where I found it: Home Depot for under $20 last fall.
Why I Love It: Where to begin? There is so much to love about this tree. I have always liked the species tree Rhus typhina (simply called "staghorn sumac"), which is fairly common around the Seattle area. The architectural shape of its branches is beautiful in winter, the fall color is magnificent, and its overall appearance is unique all year long. However, many people object to the staghorn sumac's penchant for spreading by suckers and underground runners (as in, the roots will grow many feet from the original tree and new plants will emerge above ground). In the right conditions, it can become downright invasive. And that's one reason the Tiger Eyes™ variety is so special. Not only is it a dwarf cultivar (the species staghorn sumac can reach 30' H) with deeply-cut leaves, but it is also considered to be very slow to spread. In the spring, the new leaves come out bright green, changing to yellow for the remainder of the spring and summer, and then turning red and orange in the fall. Even in the winter after the leaves are gone, the shape of the branches can provide a unique focal point to the garden.
My Story: Last fall after the death of my friend Nathan, I wanted to plant something special to remind me not only of Nathan but of the entire process of grieving, healing, and moving forward. I chose the Tiger Eyes™ tree because the shape of the leaves and their color in the fall reminded me of Nathan's love of "flames." I planted it in a pot instead of the ground because I knew I would want to take it with me when I moved. Although the plant should be hardy to -30 F, being a very new and tiny tree during our unusually cold winter here in Seattle left it susceptible to freezing. In the early weeks of spring, when there were no signs of awakening in my little Tiger Eyes™, I began to fear that it had succumbed to the cold. I tried to hold onto hope, not only for the plant itself but for all that it represented for me, but when the top of the tree began to mold and ooze, I was nearly certain it had died. Then one day about a month ago, I saw this:
How I rejoiced that day! The top was still black, mushy, and a little moldy, but the buds lower down were clearly showing signs of new life. And now?

Yes, indeed. Tiger Eyes™ has survived the winter and is bursting forth with life and hope. I can't wait to watch it grow and change over the seasons this year, and you can certainly count on more pictures to come! If you are interested in more information and pictures on this week's Plant of Promise, here is a great website I found: 'Tiger Eye' Sumac

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