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Smoke Tree
by LeeAnn Barton - posted 08/31/12

The white flowers of C. coggygria ‘Purpureus’ mature to pink, feathery puffs.

C. coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ contrasts with a ground-hugging, yellow conifer.

Two species complete the genus Cotinus: C. coggygria from southern Europe and China and C. obovatum (previously C. americanus), native to the eastern United States. Both are green-leafed species with, at times, varying reddish tints.

As a result of selection and breeding, ‘Purpureus’ smoke tree has become a popular specimen in many Western gardens. While all varieties have their beauty, only C. coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, ‘Velvet Cloak’ and ‘Notcutt’s Variety’ retain purple foliage throughout the summer. The leaves of C. coggygria ‘Purpureus’ emerge purple, then fade to dark green as the summer ensues.    

Growing to a comfortable height of 15 feet, ‘Purpureus’ smoke tree is usually grown as a multi-trunked large shrub. Left to its own devices, it will grow as wide as it is tall, but it responds well to pruning. Gardeners can easily limit Cotinus’ height and spread. 

Common Name: Smoke tree 

Botanical Name: Cotinus coggygria ‘Purpureus’

Other Cultivars: ‘Royal Purple’, ‘Velvet Cloak’ and ‘Notcutt’s Variety’

Zones: 4–9 Color: Purple foliage; fades to green 

Flowers: Small yellow-white blossoms feather into lavender-pink puffs of “smoke.”

Bloom Period: Spring Fall

Color: Orange-red-yellow blends

Type of Plant: Deciduous tree or large shrub

Size: 15 feet tall and wide; sometimes reaches 25 feet

Exposure: Full sun

Soil: Poor, rocky to average garden soil with good drainage. Tolerates alkalinity.

Water: Once a week with some drought tolerance. Do not overwater.

Transplanting: Use care to avoid excessive root disturbance during transplanting. Apply 2 inches of mulch and water during dry spells in the first summer.

In Your Landscape: Plant as a specimen or use as a backdrop of a perennial border.

From Oklahoma Gardening Volume X Issue VI. Photos courtesy of LeeAnn Barton.


LeeAnn Barton resides in Stillwater, and actively works with independent nurseries and gardening organizations while selling trees for Dave Wilson Nursery.