Trees With Flowers Or Fruits - The Smoke Tree
( Originally Published 1927 )
A favorite tree in American and European gardens is the smoke tree (Cotinus), a genus which has native representatives in both continents. The European C. Cotinus, Sarg., was brought to this country by early horticulturists and in some respects it is superior to our native C. Americanus, Nutt. Cultivation for centuries has given the immigrant species greater vigor and hardiness, which produces more exuberant growth throughout. Bring in a sapling of the native tree and it looks a starveling by comparison.
The glory of the smoke tree is the utter failure of its clustered flowers to set seed. Branching terminal panicles of minute flowers are held high above the dark green simple leaves. As they change in autumn to brilliant shades of orange and scarlet, the seed clusters are held aloft. The seeds are few but the panicles have expanded and show a peculiar feathery development of the bracts that take the place of the fruits. The clusters take on tones of pink and lavender and in the aggregate they form a great cloud made up of graceful, delicate plumes. At a little distance the tree appears as if a great cloud of rosy smoke rested upon its gorgeous foliage. Or the haze may be so pale as to look like mist. This wonderful development of the flower cluster is unique among garden shrubs and it places Cotinus in a class by itself. No garden with a shrubbery border is complete without a smoke tree, which is interesting and beautiful at any season.
In its native haunts our American smoke tree is found in small isolated groves or thickets, along the sides of rocky ravines or dry barren hillsides in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, and in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama.