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Cotinus

Smoke Tree
Anacardiaceae
Deciduous, Shrubs, Trees

Unusual and colorful shrub-trees creating a broad, urn-shaped mass usually as wide as high. Naturally multistemmed, but can be trained to a single trunk. Common name is derived from dramatic puffs of “smoke” from fading flowers: as the tiny greenish blooms wither, they send out elongated stalks clothed in a profusion of fuzzy lavender-pink hairs.

Plants are at their best under stress in poor or rocky soil. In cultivated gardens, give them fast drainage and avoid overly wet conditions. Resistant to oak root fungus.

Cotinus coggygria (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Cotinus coggygria (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Cotinus coggygria

Native from southern Europe to central China. Typically 12–15 ft. tall and wide, though it may eventually reach 25 ft. The roundish, 1 1/2–3-in. leaves are bluish green in the species, but purple-leafed types are more commonly grown. Leaves of ‘Purpureus’ emerge purple, then gradually turn green; ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Velvet Cloak’ hold their purple color through most of the summer. Those with purple foliage have richer purple “smoke puffs” than the species. ‘Golden Spirit’ reaches about 7 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide, with leaves that are lime green in spring and turn golden yellow in summer. ‘Pink Champagne’ is a green-leafed selection with pinkish tan puffs. Leaves of all types change in fall, taking on colors from yellow to orange-red.

Cotinus ‘Grace’ (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Cotinus ‘Grace’ (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Cotinus ‘Grace’

Hybrid between Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus. Grows to 15 ft. tall and wide, with blue-green foliage shaded purple; turns orange and purple-red in fall. Large deep pink puffs.

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