The smoke tree has a scientific name of Cotinus coggygria and has many different varieties. The name smoke tree comes from the panicles or flowers that form in the summer. These plume-like growths look like puffs of smoke. Popular as an ornamental tree the flowers vary in shades of purple and pink according to the variety. Fall colors are often vibrant in shades of red, orange, yellow and even purple. Native to Europe these popular shrubs have been transplanted to the United States for use as part of hedges or planting in hot dry areas.
This deciduous shrub can be found as far north as Minnesota, as far east as Maine, as far south as Florida and as far West as California. The smoke tree will grow well in a range of soils, but prefers direct sun and acidic PH. All varieties are tolerant of heat, humidity, pollution and being planted on a slope, which makes them ideal for growing in an urban environment. Reaching a height of 5 to 25 feet according to the specific variety; the shrub will thrive in dry, rocky areas and require an average amount of water.
The leaves are an oval shape. Smoke tree leaves will turn yellow, orange, purple or red in the fall for most varieties. Some varieties will have more than one fall color. Many varieties produce vivid colors in both the flowers and the leaves. The height and spread of the plant also vary by variety from the small Golden Spirit to the large Pink Champagne.
Flowers vary in color according to the variety but include pink, purple and yellow. Smoke trees produce a small, hard fruit that is not edible and does not attract animals or birds. It also does not produce new trees.
This shrub creates a lot of pollen and can irritate allergies. The sap may also cause a rash when it comes in contact with skin. The smoke tree does not pose an invasive problem, as they do not spread naturally. They are easy to plant with seeds, but the flowers are sterile. Details for each variety are listed below. When choosing an appropriate variety for landscaping consider the final height and spread of the shrub to avoid crowding.
The Daydream variety produces maroon colored flowers that are egg shaped. The panicles create the illusion of cloud of grayish-red smoke. The leaves are green and the bush is more compact than other varieties. The Daydream grows to about 10 feet in height and spread. Fall colors are vivid yellows and oranges.
The Nordine smoke tree is the hardiest. It blooms in early to mid-summer and requires full sun. The flowers are burgundy or pink and will last for several weeks. The leaves begin as red or burgundy and turn to yellow or gold in the fall. This variety grows to approximately 20 feet in both height and spread.
Grace leaves start as a bright red in this variety and darken through the summer. The pink flowers bloom in spring. Leaves will darken to purple-red in the fall. This variety will grow to 15 feet in height and spread.
The Velvet Cloak variety is commonly available. Popular for its purple leaves and purple flowers this variety is not as cold hardy as the Nordine. The Velvet Cloak will reach a height of 15 feet and a spread of 20 feet. Foliage turns a brilliant orange-red in the fall.
The Golden Spirit is a new variety of the Smoke Tree shrub. The foliage in the spring ranges in color from lime green to gold. Leaves will turn to coral, orange and red in the fall. This variety only reaches about 5 feet in height and spread. The blooms are a pink color.
The Young Lady variety is also small in height and spread, similar to the Golden Spirit. The Young Lady originated in the Netherlands. The pink blooms begin in early summer and will continue until frost. The green leaves turn yellow in the fall.
The Pink Champagne variety has green leaves and pink flowers. In fall the leaves will turn scarlet, yellow and orange. This variety has a larger spread from 15 to 25 feet and a height of 10 to 15 feet.
Royal purple grows to the same dimensions as the Pink Champagne with a spread that is larger than the height. The purplish-red blooms arrive in spring and summer. Leaf color begins as a pinkish-purple and darkens to a reddish-purple by fall. This variety grows slower than some of the others.
The smoke tree is used exclusively as an ornamental shrub in the United States. The splash of color created by the blooms and vibrant fall colors make this shrub a popular item for many homeowners.