A small group of medium to large deciduous shrubs, known for their attractive flowers and colourful foliage. The feathery flower heads are reminiscent of smoke, hence its common name.

Family: Anacardiaceae (cashew or sumac family)
Botanical Name: Cotinus
Common Names: Smoke bush, smoke tree, Venetian sumach

Foliage: Deciduous, simple rounded leaves in shades of burgundy, purple or green. Most forms provide good autumn colour.

Flowers: Tiny silken pinkish or purple flowers, borne in large loose, wispy panicles. The flowers turn grey with age, providing a smoke like appearance.

Flowering Period: Summer

Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.

Conditions: Full sun or partial shade. Can be grown in a north, south, east or west-facing aspect, in a sheltered location.

Habit: Bushy.

Type: Shrub or small tree.

Origin: Europe and Asia.

Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.

Planting and Growing Cotinus

This neat, bushy, low maintenance shrub will last for many years in the garden. Plant outside in early autumn or mid-spring. Container grown plants can be planted out at any reasonable time of year.

Grow in sun or partial shade, in any good, well drained garden soil. Ideal for poor sandy conditions. The soil should not be too fertile or they can become leggy. Shelter from cold winds.

Although a large shrub, it can be pollarded annually to keep it in check and produce fresh colourful growth. However, this will reduce flowering.

The green-leaved forms tollerate shade better and produce the best flowers. The purple forms make excellent border or specimen plants, providing a dramatic backdrop for other plantings. They also make a good deciduous hedge.

Taking Care of Cotinus

Water thoroughly during dry weather until well established. Mulch in spring with leaf mould.

Pruning Cotinus

Pruning is not normally necessary except to shape or restrict growth, in late winter or early spring. Remove any dead wood and straggling shoots in spring.

Pests and Diseases

Generally pest and disease free. Powdery mildew can be a problem on purple leaved forms.

Propagating Cotinus

Semi-ripe cuttings can be taken in late summer. Root under the protection of a cold frame and pot-up the following spring. Alternatively low growing shoots can be layered in late spring or early summer.

Popular Varieties of Cotinus

Cotinus coggygria is the main species with green or burgundy leaves, pale pink flowers and good autumn colour. Height and spread to 6ft (1.8m) or more. Good varieties include:

'Flame' has green leaves that turn to a very fine orangey red in autumn.

'Foliis Purpureis' produces purplish green leaves.

'Grace' has mid-green leaves that turn to vivid reds in autumn. RHS Award of Garden Merit. Available at Gardening Express.

'Golden Spirit' has golden oval shaped foliage that will light up summer borders. Frothy plumes of green flowers from midsummer. Autumn shades of orange and red. Available at Thompson & Morgan. Available at Gardening Express.

'Lilla' is dwarf version of 'Royal Purple', ideally proportioned for smaller gardens. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

'Notcutt's Variety' with purple leaves.

'Purpureus' with purple-pink flower heads.

'Royal Purple' one of the most popular varieties, it has deep purple rounded leaves that change to glorious copper tones by autumn. Available at Van Meuwen. Available at Thompson & Morgan.

'Young Lady' is an attractive, dwarf variety with green leaves. It flowers freely with large plumes of smoky-pink flowers. The foliage turns to shades of red and orange in autumn. Slow growing. Available at Thompson & Morgan. Available at Gardening Express.

Cotinus obovatus produces pink flowers and large leaves that turn from a bronzy colour in early spring to green in summer, followed by brilliant autumn tints.