Monday, June 18, 2012

Common Smoketree

Smoketree at Memorial Cemetery Park

Showy, tough, & compact, the Common Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria)  is bound to catch your eye from late May through July.  My grandson calls it the cotton candy tree. The unique smoke effect is caused by the 6 to 8 inch hairs (pubescence) on the flower stalks (pedicles), not the flowers.  In fact, the 1/3 inch, five -petaled yellow flowers are rarely noticed.

Adaptable to various soils types, this drought tolerant and deer resistant tree thrives in locations with full sun and good drainage.  Its resistance to most diseases is another asset. The common smoketree makes a colorful impact when it’s planted in masses, and can be used as an accent or focal point. 

Smoketree form

The multi-stemmed upright form of this 12- 15 ft. tree can be rounded or open. Young trees have smooth brownish purple stems, while older tree develop light gray bark. The alternate, simple, bluish- green obovate leaves appear later than other leaves. The long 1.5 inch petioles are often the same length as the leaf which ranges from 1.5 to 3.5 inches.  Fall foliage can range from medium yellow to reddish –purple.

Originally from Southern Europe to Eastern Asia, the smoketree has flourished in U.S zones 5 -8 since the late 19th century.  Several cultivars, many with descriptive names like ‘Black Velvet’, ‘Golden Spirit ’, and ‘Royal Purple’ have been developed from the Common Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria). The award winning ‘Grace,’ a hybrid of C. coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak x C. obovatus, was developed in 1978.  With massive pink pubescence  and leaves that turn from red, to blue green to reddish orange & yellow in the fall, ‘Grace’ reaches a height of 20 ft.  The smoketree should be at its best in June and can be seen at Dixon Gardens and the Memphis Botanic Garden. 

Cotinus coggygria 'Grace'
---Jan Castillo

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