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Plants from the Ground Up

Cotinus – The Striking Summer Smoketree

As we enter into summer, the magnificent ‘smoke’ of Cotinus is on full display. I love the cool, graceful plumes of fuzzy hairs that envelope the flowers carrying on them a scattering of seeds. You would be hard pressed to find a specimen that adds more spectacular color and style to the garden. Cotinus, depending on the species and cultivar, can take the form of a single trunked tree, shrub or somewhere in between! The smoketree’s jewel-toned foliage can be green, pink, bluish, deep-purple or even bright-yellow. If you think that their summer color is outstanding wait until autumn when they glow in rich shades of burgundy, scarlet, orange and gold.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit™’ YELLOW-LEAVED SMOKEBUSH

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit™’ YELLOW-LEAVED SMOKEBUSH – fall color


Smoketrees make exceptional specimen plants. They are also wonderful massed, in mixed borders or as an incredibly colorful hedge. There are two general approaches to the pruning of these beauties. The first approach is to simply let them be. When Cotinus are pruned, they tend to send out long, exuberant new branches which can give it a weak, spindly appearance. The second approach is to coppice them by cutting them off about a foot from the ground level. This will cause the plant to send up elongated branches of remarkably large, colorful leaves. The major downside to this second method is that you lose all of the smoky blooms.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit™’ YELLOW-LEAVED SMOKEBUSH - flower

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit™’ – flower


Cotinus coggygria is an upright, mutli-stemmed 10-15 foot tree/shrub native to southern Europe and central China. They have bluish leaves and brilliant red fall color. The species coggygria is where most of the garden cultivars are descended from. Cotinus obovatus is a green large-leaved, 20-30 foot tree form native to the eastern United States. C. obovatus has the most spectacular fiery orange to red fall color. Smoketree leaves are entire (smooth edges) and are born in an alternate arrangement. These are easy-care plants which can withstand most soil types including clay and rocky soils. They can be grown in landscapes with medium watering, and they are able to withstand dry conditions very well. Full sun is required for the best color and flowering. Cotinus are USDA winter hardy to zones 4 and 5.

Some Cotinus you are likely to find in commerce:

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’

Electric foliage in shades of bright-yellow to chartreuse make a great backdrop for the pale-pink smoke blooms. This 8-15 foot shrub form turns vivid shades of coral to red in autumn.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit™’ YELLOW-LEAVED SMOKEBUSH

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit™’ YELLOW-LEAVED SMOKEBUSH


Cotinus ‘Grace’

This is a delightful hybrid between C. obovatus and C. coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’. Pinkish-red leaves turn pinkish-green as summer progresses. The foliage provides amazing contrast to the huge rose-colored blossoms. Fall color becomes rich reds to purples. Its obovatus parentage gives this tree/shrub its extra (up to 20′) height.




Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’

This fabulous 15 foot shrub has some of the darkest-purple new growth, aging to a gorgeous deep-green tinged with purple. Blooms are a dusty rose color. Autumn finds this shrub ablaze in shades of scarlet.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ PURPLE SMOKE BUSH

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ SMOKE BUSH


Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’

This is a choice shrub for connoisseurs of purple foliage. This 10-15 foot shrub keeps its deep-purple color all season long before turning bright orange-red in fall.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’ SELECT PURPLE SMOKEBUSH

Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’ SELECT PURPLE SMOKEBUSH


Cotinus coggygria ‘Winecraft Black®’

This is perfect for small gardens! It has all the color and drama of smoke bush in half the size. This shrub features deep-dark purple leaves, pink smoke and orange fall color, yet it is only 4-6 feet tall!

Cotinus coggygria ‘Winecraft Black®’ DWARF PURPLE SMOKEBUSH

Cotinus coggygria ‘Winecraft Black®’ DWARF PURPLE SMOKEBUSH


Cotinus obovatus

This 20-30 foot US native tree is a majestic sight when in bloom and again in fall! We should count our blessings we have it at all. It was almost lost during the civil war, since its demand as a dye plant almost led to it being wiped out!




For more photos and information, see Cotinus at the Forestfarm Store.

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