Flowering time (month)
Ornamental or utility value
moderately dry to moist
The vinegar tree (Rhus typhina), also known as deer piston sumac, is originally native to eastern North America. It has its natural location at rather dry forest edges and can be found at altitudes of up to 1000 metres. Undemanding as it is, it can also be found on unmanaged, dry fallow land. It is one of the first North American woody plants to cross the ocean into Europe at the beginning of the 17th century. The name Hirschkolben-Sumach is derived from the appearance of the tree: with its downy young twigs, which grow in upright, striking branches, it is reminiscent of a deer antler covered with bast.
Some people react very sensitively to contact of the skin with the sap of the tree – if some of it gets into the eyes, conjunctivitis threatens.
In the United States, the vinegar tree is about four to six meters high and wide. By Ausläuferbildung, however, it can go considerably into the width with the years and conquer larger surfaces. In the first ten to twelve years, it grows very rapidly and grows about 30 to 40 centimeters in height and width every year. Growth stagnates in old age. The vinegar tree grows quite broadly and often has several stems. More rarely, it develops into a small tree with stiff, upright branches that branch off like antlers.
The leaves of the vinegar tree are deciduous green, but in autumn they take on an impressive colour from yellow orange to fire red. They stand alternately, are strikingly large and unpaarig feathered. The upper side is shiny green, the underside plays more blue-green.
In June and July, greenish spiky or quirky inflorescences of 15 to 20 centimeters in length appear. Vinegar trees are usually dioecious polygamous – this means that the plants usually form both hermaphroditic and unisexual flowers. However, purely male and purely female flowers never occur together on the same plant. Optically the flowers are rather inconspicuous.
The small stone fruits of the vinegar tree develop in terminal upright, piston-like fruit stands. These usually remain on the tree during the winter and are very conspicuous with their rust-red colour. The fruits are edible and are processed by the American natives into a pink sour-fresh tasting lemonade, which contains a lot of vitamin C (“Indian Lemonade”).
Location and soil
The vinegar tree prefers a sunny location and has quite low soil requirements. It can grow on almost all cultivated soils: it feels comfortable on dry, poor sandy soils as well as on moist, nutrient-rich substrates that react acidic to alkaline. It is frost hardy and tolerates a warm and dry city climate very well.
Planting and care
If you want to plant a vinegar tree in your garden, choose the location carefully as the ornamental wood will become very large and expansive over the years. The best planting times are autumn or spring. You can buy vinegar trees in specialist shops, usually with root balls, and you can plant them without much soil preparation. In order to stimulate fruit formation, it is advisable to place at least two vinegar trees next to each other. Because of the already mentioned formation of root runners, a root barrier is also recommended. It is buried vertically into the earth and should be at least 1.5 metres in diameter, better 2 metres in size, so that the roots have enough space. Watering is only necessary in case of persistent dryness or great heat. When keeping buckets, you should always keep the soil slightly moist, but avoid waterlogging at all costs. The vinegar tree does not need any special fertilization. However, if you notice that its growth is stagnating, you can spread a layer of compost on the tree disc in spring. Soil cultivation in the root area is not recommended, as injuries to the flat fleshy roots usually lead to increased runner formation.
Basically, the vinegar tree grows without any problems and develops its beautiful broad-oval crown even without a contour cut. If it becomes bald or too high and overhanging, you can reduce the size of the crown at any time by cutting it back. Don’t cut it back too far into the old wood. It sprouts from the interfaces with many shoots, but the shoots are often unstable and at risk of wind breakage. You can cut the bucket as often as you like when keeping it in the bucket. Basically, you can’t do anything wrong, because the shoots grow back again quickly.
The vinegar tree is an excellent ornamental tree for single planting, group planting or as a small house tree. Because it is robust and easy to maintain, it is often seen in public gardens and parks. With its great foliage colours, it makes a wonderful picture in autumn in the company of dark purple asters or yellow chrysanthemums. You can also combine it with other autumn colours and make it really shine in front of evergreen hedges. In the garden, the vinegar tree is also excellent for fixing sandy embankments, which it simply overgrows. You can also hold it in a bucket or pot and place it on the terrace.
The fern frond or scarlet vinegar tree (Rhus glabra ‘Laciniata’) has slit leaflets and captivates by the unique contrast of its green leaves with the deep scarlet fruit stalks. It grows relatively weakly. The also slit-leaved variety ‘Tiger Eyes’ shows, as the name already suggests, a particularly large colour spectrum. The leaves change colour over the months from green to yellow and orange to flaming red. This variety also grows rather slowly.
The propagation of the vinegar tree is quite simple thanks to the abundant runner formation: In autumn or early spring, prick a root runner at any point and plant it again elsewhere. It usually grows very reliably. The propagation in the early winter by means of pinewood from the annual shoots is also possible and succeeds almost always if the soil in the growing bed is loose and not too dry.
Diseases and pests
The vinegar tree is relatively robust and resistant. In the spring, however, it can attack “cuckoo-saliva. The damage is manifested in small, white lumps of foam that form on stems and leaves. Cicadal larvae feed on the shoots of the tree. Since this impairment is temporary and leaves hardly any permanent damage behind, it is usually sufficient to stop the infestation by rinsing the pests with a sharp jet of water. Far more serious is an infestation with Hallimasch or honey fungi (Armillaria). Infected trees either take care of themselves for years or die within a very short time. They must be completely removed to prevent further spread. Fortunately, the vinegar tree proves to be relatively unaffected. You can limit the danger by regular mulching and good care.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.