Smoketree

Tips for planting smoketrees, also known as smokebush.

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Plant type: Deciduous shrub or small tree
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 to 8

As its name suggests, smoketree's flowers are large, airy panicles that resemble clouds of smoke. Tiny greenish flowers appear in early summer, but the smoky show doesn't really get underway until hairs develop on the flower clusters as they develop fruit. The hairs, green at first, turn pinkish gray as they mature and are effective from mid- to late summer. Plants produce rounded to ovate leaves that come in shades from green to purple and are an especially effective backdrop for the flowers. Leaves turn shades of red, yellow, and orange in fall.

Smoketrees range from 10 to 15 feet tall and spread as far, and they can be grown as trees or large shrubs. To grow them as trees, select up to three main trunks and remove lower limbs to create a treelike form. To grow them as shrubs, let plants form a clump of upright stems. Smoketrees require little pruning to grow well, but purple-leaved cultivars often are cut to the ground in late winter to encourage vigorous growth with larger, darker-hued leaves. Cutting plants back annually eliminates flowering, however.

Cultivation: Plant smoketree in full sun. Ideally, these plants prefer fairly well-drained average soil, but they are adaptable dry and rocky sites and tolerate a wide range of soil pH.

How to use it: Use smoketrees in shrub borders or combine them in plantings with other small trees. Purple-leaved cultivars are effective at the back of perennial borders.

Selected Cultivars:

  • 'Flame'. A hybrid between C. coggygria and American smoketree (C. obovatus) that produces purple-pink panicles of fruit and green leaves that turn bright orange-red in fall.
  • 'Norcutt's Variety'. Features purple-pink flowering panicles and maroon-purple leaves.
  • 'Royal Purple'. Bears purple-red flowering panicles set against and dark red-black leaves that turn scarlet in fall.
  • 'Velvet Cloak'. Produces dark-purple leaves that retain their color through much of the summer and turn red-purple in fall.

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