by Mel Kendall
Last year we removed our pool and put in a free form garden. It was lots of work but we feel it was well worth the effort. In choosing the trees for the main anchors of our new landscape we wanted larger mature trees so we would have a sense of establishment and maturity right off the bat, but we really weren't sure of which trees to select. We now feel the smoketree or smoke bush tree was one of the best “seat of the pants” decisions we ever made for our garden.
The smoketree/smoke bush Cotinus coggygria ticked off all of our desirable tree boxes. It's very tolerant of poor soil, it's waterwise, insect and disease resistant, likes full sun, is deciduous and it is easy to care for. The tree is actually from the cashew family and will grow to around 15 ft. tall with a 10' to 12' canopy spread. Since this plant can be trained as a tree or as a bush the only maintenance we have had to do is remove suckers from the base to prevent it ‘bushing' out. All of these positive attributes are wrapped up in a stunningly colored package. The leaves start out as hot pink shoots and, as they mature, the color ranges from purplish green to a light or deep purple depending on the sun exposure. In the fall they will turn into beautiful shades of orange and yellow.
Right now, the tree is “smok'n” as the name suggests. Having planted this tree last summer we had not experienced the reason for the smoketree moniker. All I can say is wow! After a bare winter the tree produced three inch plus rounded hot pink leaves turning to deep purple in late March early April. Then, just this week, some magic happened. Around the canopy is an aura-like bubble of tiny yellow flowers, but the small-scale flowers aren't the focus, it's their long, wispy stems that gives the illusion of smoke. As the flowers mature they drop, but the long, fine pink stalks remain. They form a deep pink cloud around the canopy of the tree. Any wind movement will cause motion in these thin wispy stalks and trick your eye into thinking it is the ‘smoke' that gives this tree the smoketree name.
Our new garden is fresh, exciting and fun. Every day brings new discoveries and as our garden matures and the various plants settle in. We are looking forward to enjoying many more years of this beautiful carefree smoketree's ever changing display.
Master Gardeners are following recommended social distancing guidelines that keep everyone safe, Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. or phone at 707-253-4143. Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.
Visit our website: napamg.ucanr.edu to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.
Photo credits: Mel Kendall
NC State Extension-Cotinus coggygria https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/cotinus-coggygria/
Missouri Plant Finder-Cotinus coggygria