PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm

Smoke Bush (Continus coggygria)

Why is it called Smokebush? Because in early summer it blooms with massed bunches of wee 1/8″ pale yellow flowers on tons of pinkish, hair-fine stems. They look like puffs of smoke colored apricot to pink and are definitely a head-snapper when in full bloom. Smokebush is also known as Smoke Tree partly because the common shrubby forms can grow into small tree-like shapes, also because there is a little known and underappreciated species called American Smoketree. This one grows to 20-35 feet and is native from Missouri to Tennessee.

The most common type has eggplant purple leaves all spring and summer, but other varieties can be purplish bronze, reddish purple, and even bright chartreuse greenish yellow. In Tacoma the best display, thanks to Metro Parks, is along the waterfront between the Chinese Reconciliation Park and McCarver St. in Old Town. They have planted all the varieties in a row and they are spectacular!

Ok, so, cool colored foliage. Cool blooms. But autumn is when they put on their fanciest, bestest, goin-to-a-holiday-party, brilliantly colored wardrobe. All varieties turn bright reds, dark reds, flaming oranges, and gold. All at once. Then they undress and head to bed for winter.

Most varieties can get to 15 feet eventually and want to be fully branched to the ground. We like to limb them up into a tree shape with one or multiple trunks and a canopy of color. They are happy in full sun or light shade and once established, are drought tolerant. We have two in our pastures that haven’t been intentionally watered for 10 years and are never short on delightfulness.