Cotinus coggygria, Smokebush

July 3, 2016

Cotinus coggygria, Smokebush

…another flaming day

gone up in smoke…

                Jim Beschta

“Gone up in smoke” may actually be a positive occurrence when referring to Cotinus coggygria, Smokebush. These large, deciduous shrubs, growing up to 15-feet-tall, provide an unusual ornamental display, looking as if wreathed in a cloud of smoke. This curious appearing cloud of smoke which may last all summer and even into early autumn is actually neither flower of fruit. The plant’s true flowers occurred earlier in May. With five tiny, yellow petals which together only total 1/8-inch across, they undoubtedly attracted no attention from visitors enjoying our annual bountiful spring floral display. The panicle on which the flowers grew persists, and upon these stems, tiny hairs (pubescence) elongate and persist, creating the unusual “smoke” of the smokebush. Some may also be reminded of cotton-candy.

Cotinus coggygria Royal Purple

when we watched cotton candy trees

blossom in the spring,…

                Valerie Dohren

Cotinus sp.

The genus Cotinus is within the ANACARDIACEAE, or cashew family which also includes the sumacs (Rhus). Cotinus coggygria, Smokebush is native from southern Europe to central China, and in earlier history was identified as Rhus coggygria. Alice Coats in her classic book Garden Shrubs and their Histories reveals some economic use, “…the Venice or Silken Sumach (known to Pliny by the loopy name of Coggygria) was important as a dye-plant, its twigs yielding the yellow colour…It has been grown in our gardens since before 1656, for the sake of its hair-like bunches…which gave the species its name of Wig Tree or Smoke tree…” These infloresences may pass through several color changes from smokey ivory to rosey pink. Cultivated varieties have been selected and introduced for their more vibrant purplish colors. Here at Mount Auburn, on Lime Avenue, we grow Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’ which has new foliage with a red-violet color that in autumn turns reddish-purple, as well as having a light red-purple inflorescence.

Cotinis obovatus habit fall

Cotinus is a very small genus with many taxonomists recognizing only two species. Here on Spelman Avenue, we grow several individuals of Cotinus obovatus, American Smoketree. This 20 to 30-foot tall tree is native to south central United States. The “smoke” display is often not as abundant as with Cotinus coggygria, Smokebush, but fall color of the leaves is reliably spectacular.


About the Author: Jim Gorman

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