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Staghorn Sumac, Hardy Orange and Osmanthus – My Favorites for Fall

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) ‘Tiger Eyes’
Native throughout the Eastern United States, Staghorn Sumac survives in the most inhospitable conditions in large thickets.  But unlike other Staghorn Sumacs, the selection ‘Tiger Eyes’ is compact and slow spreading, a medium-sized shrub of 6 to 8 feet tall and wide, with lacy fern-like foliage.  Leaves start out as a bright screaming yellow as they emerge in the spring and fade to a brilliant chartreuse.  Branches are angled, giving it a very oriental feel in the garden.  Beginning in mid-October, the foliage turns from yellow to a scarlet orange and then to red.   It’s even interesting in winter, with branch tips covered in brown velvet – hence the name of the native species.

Staghorn Sumac thrives in all sorts of conditions, from full sun to partial shade.  Once it is established, it is tough enough to survive incredible drought and neglect.  It’s hard to conceive of a shrub that will tolerate more abuse and still thrive.

Hardy Bitter Contorted Orange (Poncirus Trifoliata) ‘Flying Dragon’

A native of China and Korea, this orange is a deciduous shrub armed with vicious contorted spines.  It makes a spectacular small shrub or tree 8 to 12 feet tall and wide that’s an interesting curiosity any time of year.  It has white fragrant flowers in spring, dark green trifoliate foliage in summer, yellow orange golfball-sized citrus-like fruit in fall (skin has an almost pine-like bitter taste to it, very sour, fruit loaded with seeds, not considered edible although I have tried it – yuck!) and twisted and contorted branches and thorns in winter.  It is very stress-tolerant.

False Holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus) ‘Sasaba’

This is a broadleaf evergreen shrub with white fragrant flowers that bloom in October, scenting the fall garden.  Handsome, deeply cut, incised, sharp, spiny, stiff, lustrous dark green leaves whose sharp marginal and terminal spines point in all directions.  It’s a gardener’s worst nightmare, or as I usually refer to it, “razor wire.”

You will need gloves with the long gauntlets to work with this plant.   Plant in well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.  Osmanthus is native to Japan and I do believe the word ‘Sasaba’ refers to the foliage of bamboo.  It was introduced in the United States by Brookside Gardens in Maryland.

Click here for more views of this Osmanthus that looks like no other Osmanthus.

by Randy Best

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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