Scientific American 4, 7.10.1854
(For the Scientific American.)
Having read articles in the daily press on sumach, and observing they conveyed no correct information to the cultivator, I have sent you the following essay on the subject. Sicilian sumach is imported largely into the country from Messina and Palermo, and some of the inferior quality, grown in Germany, from Trieste; and if the sumach of this country can supply its place, the object would be worthy the attention of our citizens. Most of the following observations have appeared in print, some years since, under my signature.
Sumach is extensively used in morocco tanning, in calico pritning and dyeing. - There are three species used in dyeing - the Rhus Glabrum, the Rhus Coriæria, and the Rhus Cotinus. The two first only are used in tanning. The first is the common sumach of North America, and is much used by out coutry dyers, and, to a limited extent, by out tanners. The annual shoots of petuncles, with their leaves, are gathered, and in this country are mostly used without grinding. A writer in one of the New York papers gives directions to grind the wood of this shrub with the leaves and annual shoots but this would so injure the quality as t orender the mass of little or no value.
It is well known that the most astringent vegetables, or those containing the largest portion of gallic acid, are brought from warm climates, and the following facts will prove that the quality of the sumach depends on the warmth of the climate in which it grows. The sumach in Europe is the Rhus Coriæria. That which is gwon in the north of Europe, and imported from Trieste, si no better than our northern sumach, excepting a small portion grown in Tyrol, and even this is not superior to the best American grown in New Jersey; whereas thatgrown in Sicily, Syria, Spain and Portugal, where it is cultivated with great care, is found by experience to be vastly superior to that from Trieste, and sells much higher. A similar difference is observable in the sumach grown in this country. That from the southern side of New Jersey is superior to the new York, and that from Virginia to the New hersey; and there is no doubt that if raised in the Sourhtern States, dried with care, and ground fine, it would be equal tothe best imported.
Sumach should be cut or gathered in clear weather, and should be so spread on a floor as to dry rapidly, for it only a small part should ferment, the whole mass will be seriously injured. It should be finely ground when dry, and packed in bags. No rain or dew should fall on it after cutting, for even the damp from the hold of a ship will greatly injure its quality.
I have been informed that our sumach will not reproduce from the seed, and if this be true there would be some difficulty in extending the article to a great extent by field cultivation. Sumach is said to be hybridous, in which case plants from Sicily planted among our glabrum, would enable the seed of both to reproduce, and in this way might be extended at pleasure. Mr. George Woodward, however, has sent the seed of our glabrum to England, and there it reproduces very readily.
The Rhus Cotinus, or Venice sumach, is also an important article in dyeing. It is known in England as young fustic, the stem and trunk of the shrub, and the root, are extensively used in Europe for dyeing golden and orange yellows. The leaves and stalk, when bruised, have an aromatic, but pungent and acid scent.
The plant is grown in our nurseries, and sold as an ornamental shrub. It is by some called the fringe tree, and by others the burning bush; at least such have been the names given me by inquiring of the owners. It bears a large drab-colored flossy blossom, and grows luxuriantly in many of our shrubberies.
The Cotinus is cultivated by layers. The stalks sent to market in Europe are from one to two inches in diameter, with the bark taken off. There is considerable white sap outside, and dark yellow and orange-colored rings inside, the latter being the coloring matter. The leaves from this wood, when cut, are gathered, dried, and ground with the other sumach.
Binghamton, N. Y.