This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
As a spirit seems now most appropriately awakening toward the development of the natural resources of our country, we may hope ere long to realize the noblest aspirations of the noblest man our country has produced, carried out to a conclusive result, by rendering our country independent of all foreign supplies of such commodities as may be readily produced from our own soil.
Sumach is one of the articles which we have hitherto imported largely, and I therefore send you some explanatory remarks on the subject The Sicilian Tanner's Sumach is a rather tender shrub for any latitude north of New York. It would succeed in New Jersey, and to the south of it.
With regard to our native Sumach, we have four, and perhaps five, species that possess a sufficiency of tannin to render them valuable for domestic use and for commerce. It will be requisite to test them all, in order to select the preferable species for extensive culture.
The species found so common in neglected fields and along the road-sides, is the Rhus glabrum, producing crimson berries in large clusters; and it is this which has been already made use of, to some extent - more especially in Connecticut and other eastern States. Its usual hight is about four and a half feet.
A taller growing species is also quite common, and is the Rhus lyphinum. It usually attains the hight of ten to twelve feet, or more, with small clusters of dingy red berries.
A third species is Rhus copallinum, which is quite common in dry woods and fields, more especially where the soil is sandy. This species has more resemblance to the Sicilian Sumach than any other American species, in its foliage, and its gray bark and growth. It attains a hight of seven to eight feet, and produces dull reddish berries, in small clusters. I should incline to the belief that this is the preferable native species for tanning; and fortunately it is disseminated far to the south and west, though seldom found north of New York. The Indians of the Mississippi and Missouri make use of the leaves of this species as tobacco.
A fourth species is Rhus aromaticum, which is not found in this State, or to the north or east of it. Its most northern limit is Pennsylvania, thence extending to Carolina and to Kentucky. This is a shrub of about four feet in hight, with trifoliate leaves, which distinguish it from all the other species. It grows naturally in moist localities. The leaves, when rubbed, omit a very strong odor.
The four species I have described, all possess tannin to a greater or less extent.
A fifth species, in regard to which I have doubts, is the Rhus vernix, or Poison Sumach tree. This is found usually in low grounds, and attains a height of eight to ten feet The leaves are pinnate, and resemble those of the Ash so much that it is often colledPpoison Ash. Its berries are white. Every part of this small tree is poisonous, not only in the growing state, but, as I am assured by those who hare suffered from it, even when vegetation has ceased and no sap is flowing.
Having now reviewed all the species which may be applied to the object desired, I will refer to a Chinese species, Rhus succedanum, from which the red lac is made, and which might be introduced and cultivated here. It is singular that so many useful and so many poisonous shrubs should be comprised in one genus.
In addition to the poisonous species already described, we have in plenty around us, Rhus toxicodendron, or poison ivy - a vine which runs over so many fences, and climbs so many trees; and in Pennsylvania and Virginia, Rhus viridiflorum, also very poisonous; and there is also Rhus pumilum - a dwarf shrub, found most plentifully in Vermont and Lower Canada, and also said to grown in Upper Carolina, which is deemed the most poisonous of all.
In California they have the Yedra or Rhus viride, which abounds in the mining districts, growing under the Oak trees, and is the only plant there that looks green and flourishing during the torrid heat of summer. Most woefully have the miners suffered from this poisonous plant.
In the Island of Java there is a poisonous species, Rhus Javanicum, so celebrated for its deleterious properties that it has been sometimes confused with the Bohon Upas tree of fabulous notoriety. There is another species found at Macao, and one in Barbary, and above a dozen species are natives of the region about the Cape of Good Hope; but of these the peculiar properties are unknown.