Cotinus coggygria "The Smoke Bush"


Cotinus Coggygria is an easy to grow deciduous shrub which has lovely coloured foliage, with varieties with dark red and purple leaves. When it flowers, the shrub takes on the appearance of being wreathed in smoke, which accounts for its common name, the Smoke bush.

Cotinus will grow in most soils and will tolerate partial shade, although partial shade is better suited to the green-leaved varieties, as opposed to purple and red, which require more sun. There are several varieties of the Cotinus coggygria (illustrated centre) such as 'Royal purple' image left and centre which has lovely purple foliage.  Cotinus 'Royal purple'  with its purple leaves creates contrast in the border, as in the image right with Alchemilla mollis (Lady's mantle)  making a good border combination.

There are also varieties of Cotinus Coggygria which have red leaves, 'Flame' and 'Grace' both of which also have the RHS garden merit award. Cotinus coggygria have strong autumn colour, especially 'Flame' and 'Grace'. The image left shows Cotinus planted alongside Cornus and the contrast is attractive, well worth planting as part of a shrub border. Cotinus matures into a large shrub as the image far right displays and it is best to check the label for overall size to ensure you have space in the border. Cotinus can be pruned and quite severely if needed although it may sulk for a season a bit.

How to Grow Cotinus coggygria The Smoke Bush

Smoking cotinus close up

To achieve the strongest colour and the best smokey plumes, Cotinus needs a warm sunny spot. It will grow in partial shade and in most garden conditions, but if those conditions are shady, you may have to be content with the colourful leaves and not too much smoke. 

When choosing a Cotinus to plant in the garden it is good to remember Cotinus can grow quite large. The image above right shows a Cotinus with full smoke effect and it is a large shrub, almost a small tree. Cotinus Coggygria will grow to around 5ms, 'Flame' and 'Grace' around 6ms which size they will reach in between 10-20years. 

How to Prune Cotinus

Cotinus requires little or no pruning, which makes it easy to grow. Cotinus should be pruned in late winter or early spring when still dormant to keep the framework of the shrub looking in good shape. A light prune can to remove diseased, spindly or crossing branches and then a feed is an option.  Equally, Cotinus can be left for several years with little or no attention. 

Cotinus, when grown in its preferred conditions, can be vigorous and get large. This means it may outgrows it allotted spot or is overshadowing neighbouring shrubs and plants. If this occurs, Cotinus can be hard pruned if the shrub is mature and it will tolerate being cut back hard or coppiced and this will keep it in check, although at the expense of flowers for that year. Hard pruning will also have the effect of producing larger leaves that year.

Cotinus will respond well to clipping and I have seen it grown to good effect clipped into a round lollipop shape, which makes a nice contrast from green topiary. 

If Cotinus is not the ideal shrub for your garden, check out shrubs and bushesspring flowering shrubssummer flowering shrubsshrubs with autumn and winter interest; and evergreen shrubs.

Cotinus comes into leaf late in spring, but the compensation is the brilliant autumn colour. Cotinus looks good with many border plants, blue and pink Clematis, with vibrant greens, as in the image centre which is with Alchemilla mollis, and with strong blues such as Agapanthus and good with Crocosmia; and also with other garden shrubs by way of contrast as in image top left with Cornus. 

Cotinus is fully hardy and easy to grow. The new foliage in spring looks lovely and particularly beautiful with raindrops on it. Late summer, the shrub, if provided with enough warmth and sun, will flower producing the delicate smoke effect and then put on spectacular autumn colour; a great garden shrub.

Cotinus for Autumn Colour

Cotinus flame

Cotinus flame

This Cotinus has strong orange coloured leaves which stand out in their autumn colour

Cotinus Coggyria Royal Purple

Cotinus Coggyria royal purple

A good colour all year round in the autumn, the purple leaf colour intensifies

Dazzling autumn colour

fabulous autumn colour

Cotinus produces wonderful strong autumn colours 

Cotinus coggygria on Greek hillside

Cotinus growing Wild in Greece

Cotinus Coggygria is native to rocky habitats in the Mediterranean. It is always a thrill to see a plant or shrub growing wild in its natural habitat. Driving around a mountainous area in Greece, I came to a stop to admire Cotinus perched on the edge of the road, growing in scrubby ground and wreathed in "Smoke". Since it was growing out of the side of a steep cliff, the image is not the best, but fantastic to see on such a rocky outcrop.

Updated 09.12.2021