Is that smoke tree on fire? No, it’s the plume of flowers that appears to form a sort of cloud at the top of the plant. It’s very dramatic, and that’s before you’ve even looked at the impressive foliage up close!
The leaves are the best asset of the smoke tree (scientific name: Cotinus). They're oval, bluish green, purple or gold and change colour in the autumn. The green leaves change to gold and the red to russet before being shed in the winter. The smoke tree is a slow-growing shrub that can reach a height of up to five metres and a width of four metres. It flowers in June and July with long feathered stems that end in a plume that looks like a wig with very fine hair. From a distance it looks like a pink cloud or candyfloss.
The smoke tree is a member of the cashew family, and grows in a region that runs from south-east France through Turkey and Ukraine, to the Himalayas and China. Favourite locations are chalky slopes and patches of soil between rocks. The plant was brought to Europe by the botanist Clusius and has been cultivated since 1594.
- The scientific name Cotinus is derived from the Greek word 'cotonos', which means ‘wild olive tree’.
- The yellow colourant in the wood was used to dye clothes in the past. Put on gloves before you start pruning.
- The smoke tree’s symbolic meaning is ‘purification’ or ‘cleansing’, a reference to the plume of smoke: fumigating.