American Farmer 1(11): 335 (May 1846)

In September. 1843, I sent you an article on the cultivation of sumach, which appeared in your number for October. I am pleased to inform you, and the friends of American industry generally, that the quantity sent from the South for the past year, 1845, mostly from Virginia, has been equal to about ten thousand bags, equivalent to seven hundred tons, being nearly one-twentieth of the consumption of the country.

I mentioned in my former essay, that the most astringent vegetables, or those containing the largest portion of gallic acid, are raised in warm climates. Now, although the sumach sent from Virginia has been used in place of Sicilian, yet that which can be raised in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and more particularly Florida, would be of decidedly better quality. I would, therefore, call the attention of enterprising citizens of those States to the article, and can promise them that they can cultivate no product that will pay them better.

I stated in my article of 1843, "that I had been informed sumach would not reproduce from the seed, it being a hybridous plant; but on consulting a Mr. Woodward, who sent the seed of our sumach to England, he says it will reproduce, as much of the seed sent there produces bountifully." He states that it should be gathered as soon as ripe, and planted soon after; so as not to become too old. This I consider an important fact, and one which our Southern planters should embrace; for by planting the seed, and mowing down the shoots three times annually, they might obtain from three to five tons per acre, with much less expense and trouble than by gathering and bringing home the natural growth scattered extensively over the country. The sumach is perennial and when once planted would last for ages, the crop when sown annually increasing until the ground became full of roots.

[American Agriculturist.

American Farmer 2(3): 75-76 (Sep 1846)
Eufaula, Ala., Aug. 10th, 1846.

To the Editor of the American Farmer.

Dear Sir,—In the May No. of the American Farmer, I see a communication from Mr. Wm. Partridge, in which he says, he sent an article in Sept. 1843, on the cultivation of the Sumach.—Will you or your correspondent please state in what manner it is gathered and prepared for market; also, at what time; in fact every other necessary information. By complying with the above you will oblige.


[In reply to the above queries of our correspondent we copy from a former volume of our work, the following information upon the subject:]

Sumach.—In reply to the inquiries of John Foley, Esq. of Louisiana, through the medium of the American Farmer, as to the proper time for gathering, and best manner of preparing Sumach for market, one of our correspondents has enabled us to furnish the following information.

The branches of the American Sumach, for dyeing and tanning, should be gathered, on or about the 20th of July, when the plant is in its milky state, and must not be exposed to rain or dew, but dried under sheds. When thoroughly dried the cuttings are to be thrashed upon the barn floor, in the name manner as grain, and the threshing sifted through a riddle, same as grain, then packed in sacks, when it is ready to be sent to market. The peculiar excellence of this valuable material consists in its being gathered in the proper season, preserved free from the sun, from all dampness, and also in the fineness of the threshing. The rays of the sun, after gathering, will extract the color, and dampness injures its dyeing and tanning qualities. The more bright, green, and fresh it appears, the more ready the sale, at the best market price.

[Of the history of the Sumach, the following are some of the particulars mentioned by Philips:]

*The Tripoli merchants still find sale for the seeds of this shrub at Aleppo, where they are in common use there at meals to provoke an appetite, being ground into powder as we grind mustard seed.

The name of Sumach for this shrub is the same by which it is distinguished by the Arabs. The Greeks called it Ρους rhus, and rhous, from the verb rheo, I run, or flow, on account of the nature of the root, which spreads itself to a great distance, sending up numerous suckers. The Latins followed the Greek name of this plant; but as it seed was anciently used for seasoning meat instead of salt, it was called Rhus Obsoniorum*, and Rhus Coriaria, from its use in dressing of leather, and for which purpose its branches are still in great demand among the Turks for tanning their Morocco leather. The elm-leaved sumach, rhus coriaria, grows naturally in India, Syria, about Aleppo and Rama, in Italy, Spain, and the south of France, and also near Algiers in Africa.

Dr. Turner says, in his Herbal of 1568, the Sumach groweth in no place of England, or Germanye, that ever I sawe, but I have sene it in Italy, a little from Bononye, in the mounte Appennine." It appears, however, to have been cultivated in this country previous to 1597, as Gerard mentions it in his Herbal of that year, and from the Catalogue of the botanic garden at Oxford, it appears to have been planted there before the year 1846.

The flowers of this species of sumach grow in loose panicules at the end of the branches, each panicule being composed of several thick spikes of flowers sitting close to the footstalks; they are of a whitish herbaceous colour, and appear in July, but seldom if ever ripen their seeds in England.

The Virginia sumach, rhus typhinam, is a native of North America, as its name imports. Parkinson is the oldest author who notices it in this country: he tells us, in 1629, that it was then "only kept as a rarity and ornament to a garden and orchard." This species of sumach was formerly called the Stag's horn tree, from the branches being shaped like those of the stag's-horn, and like them covered with a soft velvet-like down, which, both in colour and texture, resemble that of a young stag's horn.

The leaves are long, and elegantly pinnated with six or seven pairs of leaflets, terminated by an odd one, which hang in a most graceful manner. The shrub grows from ten to fifteen feet in height, and therefore should fill a middle station in the shrubbery, between tall evergreens and lower Shrubs. The variety this plant affords in the autumn, by the gay tints of its foliage, is not surpassed in beauty by any shrub we possess, as it is sometimes quite purple, and at others of a fine red, before it changes to its last feuillemort colour. It is one of the trees that is particularly handsome to look down upon.

This shrub, as well as the elm-tree sumach, is used for tanning leather; and the roots are used in medicine in Virginia end Carolina.

The sumach sends up numerous suckers, by which means it is so easily increased, that there is little occasion to sow the seed when once a single plant is obtained. The Hortus Kewensis notices eleven species of this plant that will endure our winters, and nine species that require the green-house, and one the stove.

From the N. Y. Statesman.

I observe from an extract in your paper, that a Mr. Foley, of Louisiana, is desirous of having some information relative to the shrub called sumach. It is an article which has come under my notice for many years, as a dealer and as a dyer. The consumption of sumach in this country is already considerable, and is much increasing. It is used by the dyer, and for tanning of leather, and Turkey leather is all tanned with this shrub.

I am not prepared to give information on the proper time of gathering the shrub, nor have I been able to collect any instructions relative to it from works published on the subject. I should presume, however, that the proper time would be when the annual shoots arrive at their full degree of foliage. I should deem the most important fact to the cultivator to be the obtaining of the right species, for the varieties ore numerous, and among them only one appears to be cultivated on the European continent for the use of the dyer and tanner. When the right kind has been obtained, and the shoots gathered and well dried, it will be necessary, in order to give to it the European value, that it should be ground to a fine powder.

There are several species of sumach in this country. The rhus coriaria, or elm-leaved; the rhus glabrum, called scarlet sumach, from the colour of its acid berries-the rhus tyhinum, called Virginia sumach—the rhus copallinum, or the lentiseus leaved sumach, &c.

The rhus cotinus, or Venice sumach, is also an important article in dying. It is commonly called young fustic. The stem and trunk of the shrub, and the root, are bought and employed for dying an orange yellow. The leaves and stalke, when bruised, have an aromatic but pungent and acid scent.

The sumach called Sicily and Malaga, are the most sought after, and produces the greatest price. It looks much yellower when ground than the American, and works more powerfully. It is the rhus coriaria, which grows naturally in Syria, Palestine, Spain and Portugal, as well as in this country, yet the American is very inferior to that obtained from Spain and Sicily. It is altogether probable that the deficiency in the American sumach arises from their gathering from the wrong species, from the mode of cultivating it, from the quality of the land, or from having been grown in too northerly a climate. I shall consider that Louisiana would be admirably calculated for raising it. It is diligently cultivated in Spain and Portugal. The shoots are cut down to the roots every year, then dried, that they may be ground to powder in a mill.

As the cultivation of the sumach is become important from its great consumption, I have taken some pains to collect the following botanic description, that no mistake may be made by our patriotic cultivators.

Coriaria—elm-leaved sumach—leaves pennate; leaflets oval, bluntly serrated, downy beneath; their common stalk winged in the upper part; flowering in July, and retaining its dense, branched, ample, upright clusters, of deep red, rough, coriaceous berries, even till winter, after the leases are fallen. The tree is of a dwarf bushy habit, with spreading ascending, round, downy branches, of a soft spongy texture. Leaves from eight inches to a foot long, of about five pair of leaflets, with an odd one; paler, downy, and veiny beneath. Flowers greenish, each with a large hoary germen, which becomes a globular, crimson, hair berry, the size of an elder berry. The taste of this fruit is very acid and astringent.