Cotinus: The Dramatic Smoke-Tree

Cotinus, a dark, decorative branch is better known by its common name, "Smoke Bush" (or Smoke Tree).  This name comes from the deciduous shrub's late-season appearance, when its wispy, airy flowers fade into a pearl-white color which literally resembles puffs of smoke.  Most flower farmers harvest the branches before the plant flowers, so don’t expect any wispy smoke from them.

 Royal Purple Cotinus

Royal Purple Cotinus

Gardeners have been using Cotinus for years, and it has been bred extensively to grow in various shapes, sizes, and colors.The most popular is the "Royal Purple" cultivar--the burgundy-purple sheen on the upper side of each leaf is paired with a silver-green underside.  Toward the end of the season (and as you can see in the photos), each leaf is framed by a bright red, almost iridescent, edging.  Unique AND breathtaking!

 Underside of Cotinus Leaves

Underside of Cotinus Leaves

In the wild, cotinus is found on the warm hillsides from Southern Europe to Northern China.  In North America, you can find it in sunny valleys where full sun and warmth abounds.

Cotinus has an incredible growth rate, and stems can be harvested starting around the first of June, continue to through summertime and into fall, usually stopping by the end of October.  At the end of each season, the shrub should be pruned down to the ground, and from the following early spring to the end of fall, it will shoot back up to 10+ feet.  

 6-foot-tall Royal Purple Cotinus

6-foot-tall Royal Purple Cotinus

Cotinus is considered a dream to grow--it is drought-tolerant, extremely resilient to pests and fungi, requires minimal fertilization, and performs magnificently!

Cotinus Design

The dark coloring of cotinus makes it a very versatile piece for floral design--it can act as a dark background element, stand out as a tall, eye-catching focal, and it looks great mixed with strong colors.

 Cotinus, hypericum, and roses.

Cotinus, hypericum, and roses.

Its palette of purple, burgundy, and scarlet with bright red edging and silvery green undersides and can really bring out warm pinks, oranges, yellows, and reds.

 Cotinus, Lilies, and Rosehips

Cotinus, Lilies, and Rosehips

Whether it's early in the season or late, the leaves of Royal Purple Cotinus are vibrant and richly hued, and there's always a glint in the dark foliage. The bright veins and edging really makes the dark and dramatic leaves sing.

 Cotinus, Tulips, and horsetails

Cotinus, Tulips, and horsetails

 Cotinus, snowberries, lilies, and beargrass

Cotinus, snowberries, lilies, and beargrass