One of my all-time favourites: The straight species combines beautiful smooth rounded foliage, stunning flower display (the ‘smoke’), comfortable size, drought tolerance and enjoys part shade to full sun. Next you can add in some amazing cultivars (purpurea, Flame, Golden Spirit, Grace, Velvet Cloak and Royal Purple) with just stunning colours and leaves that start one colour, deepen to another and then hit autumn is a flamboyant extravaganza – and then there are the extraordinary flowers…
You can make it into a small deciduous tree or keep as a bushy deciduous shrub. If opting for a tree, then select a strong stem to make a trunk and prune to form a tree. If growing to a shrub, then prune plants heavily in winter for the first few years to develop multiple stems – yes you will lose the flowers during this formative pruning time, but you will set yourself up for decades of low maintenance ease and enjoyment.
Relatively drought and frost hardy. Will perform better if there is some summer water. Mulch and gently (not heavily) fertilise for best results. Details of cultivars below. All can be cut back to make smaller (generally giving larger leaves), and most colour up better when in the sun.
var. purpurea: Soft purple foliage moving to a deep purple over summer. Pink flowers. Grows 3-5m
Flame: Clear blue/green leaves changing to brilliant oranges, crimson and red in autumn. Pinkish purple ‘smoke’ flowers. Grows 4m x 4m
Golden Spirit: Leaves emerge lime-green turning intense clear gold and finally changing to shades of orange and reds in autumn. The more sun it gets, better the yellow colour. Contrasts incredibly well with the purple forms. The ‘smoky plumes’ are less reliable in this cultivar, but come in pale green shades. 2.5m – 5m tall
Grace: (named for Grace Dummer, wife of the propagator Peter Dummer). A hybrid between Cotinus coggygria and C. obovatus, the leaves emerge pale red then deepen to mid purple, sometimes blue tones creep in depending on light conditions, before finally changing to a gorgeous array of pink, red, orange and scarlet in autumn. The colder the temperature, the more vivid the colours. Flowers are a lovely smoky pink. Can reach 6m and inclined to be a bit open / lanky, prune carefully to ensure good habit.
Royal Purple: Leaves initially a soft purple with pretty green underside, deepening into a stunning dark purple which persists until autumn when they turns scarlet. Long lasting smoky hazy purple flowers. 3-5m tall. Magnificent contrasted with Golden Spirit.
Velvet Cloak: Deep purple / burgundy foliage turning brilliant red and oranges in autumn. Flowers form a contrasting pink smoke. Best colour in full sun. Around 4mx 4m.