Color it Smoky
Published: 09/28/2009 Updated: 08/14/2019
A lovely addition to the Northwest garden, the Smoke Tree is a study in shades of red, its leaves transforming from maroons to dark purples and onward to scarlet.
A hardy, easy-to-grow, deciduous plant to brighten your Northwest garden is the Smoke Tree. Growing to a height of about 15 feet, Cotinus coggygria "Royal Purple" can provide a nice color accent to your plantings and can also be kept shrub-like with proper pruning. Smoke Trees are so named for the panicles of spent flowers that appear like puffs of pink smoke around the plant. "Royal Purple" has leaves that change color throughout the seasons. In spring, the leaves are maroon red. In summer, the cultivar's leaves turn dark purple, almost black, with oval leaves having red veins and stems. The leaves are edged with a thin line of red, and they turn scarlet in autumn. To be sure you get the most intense color display, choose your tree when it turns color in the fall, and water and fertilize only minimally. This plant likes a moist, fertile, well-drained soil and does well in full sun to partial shade. To maintain a tree structure, in late winter to early spring, remove only crossing stems. To keep the plant a shrub, cut back all stems to within two to three buds from the base in early spring. This will encourage vigorous shoot growth and larger leaves. The possible down side to this practice is you'll sacrifice flowers, so you will have to decide if you want the beautiful leaves or if you want your tree to "smoke."