Wednesday Weed – Smoke Bush

Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria)

Dear Readers, if ever there was a plant to put one in mind of a Persian cat, this is it. Who could pass by without giving it a little stroke? Those fluffy, cloudy flowerheads are a result of most of the flowers aborting and turning into a mass of wispy plumes. The ones that do survive turn into little green fruits.

Photo One by By Jerzy Opioła (Poland) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=619871

Smoke bush fruit (Photo One)

This shrub, in Muswell Hill, is probably the most splendid that I’ve ever seen, so I had to share it with you all.

The smoke bush comes from a great swathe of land, from Southern Europe right the way to Northern China. It’s a member of the Anacardiaceae or cashew family, and the family member that you might be most familiar with is the sumac . There is only one other member of the Cotinus genus, the American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus), which doesn’t have such smokey flowers but has the most extraordinary autumn colours. It is quite a rare tree, found only in a few pockets of forests in the south-eastern USA, and considered to be endangered.

Photo Two by © Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

American smokewood in Kew Gardens (Photo Two)

I’ve also seen smoke bushes with purple foliage, which is all very well but I don’t think the ‘smoke’ contrasts as nicely as it does with the green foliage. What do you think?

Photo Three by By Photo by David J. Stang - source: David Stang. First published at ZipcodeZoo.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61240385

Smoke bush ‘Royal Purple’ (Photo Three)

'My' smokebush

‘My’ smoke bush

Smoke bush is rich in tannins, and the bark, wood and leaves have all been used as a tonic, and as a treatment for stomach ulcers, diarrhoea and mouth inflammation.

The plant’s wood also produces a yellow dye which was known as young fustic, and was used in the carpet industry in the Eastern Mediterranean region. There was also a dye known as old fustic, which came from a tree known as Dyer’s Mulberry (Maclura tinctoria), which was used during WWI to dye soldiers’ uniforms. Old fustic was said to produce a longer-lasting colour than young fustic, but alas both of them have now been replaced with artificial dyes. I say ‘alas’, but I imagine the trees are relieved!

Photo Four by http://cameo.mfa.org/wiki/File:Yfustic_copperas_sug_lead.jpg

Cloth dyed with young fustic (Photo Four)

The wood is also very attractive – see the sculpture below by wood carver Tom Lowe at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. At the Garden they invite sculptors and wood carvers to work with the results of any pruning or tree surgery work that they need to do, and the results are often very pleasing.

Photo Five from https://www.lewisginter.org/mementos-of-change/

Carved smokebush wood (Photo Five)

And here, of course, is a poem. I love the last line. I, too, sometimes find, to my surprise, that I’m no longer sad.

Smoke Tree

            Cotinus coggygria

I was hiking half a world from home

when I saw a smoke tree on the trail ahead

smolder into a lather of light, plush

as powder in the heat-choked air—

 

and clustered along spinules, thin

as capillaries, a tiny arson flared,

then rose into a stratosphere

where the ash of all I was and had

 

was rushing toward some distant ground

I’d planted once with such as this

in memory of someone dead, and from

that half a world away, a cloud returned

 

faltering with rain: I was no longer sad.

from The Burning of Troy

 

Photo Credits

Photo One by By Jerzy Opioła (Poland) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=619871

Photo Two by © Copyright David Hawgood and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Photo Three by By Photo by David J. Stang – source: David Stang. First published at ZipcodeZoo.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61240385

Photo Four by http://cameo.mfa.org/wiki/File:Yfustic_copperas_sug_lead.jpg

Photo Five from https://www.lewisginter.org/mementos-of-change/

4 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Smoke Bush

  1. Fran and Bobby Freelove

    I have the green variety in the garden, the bonus being when the plant is in flower, and before they tun fluffy, it is loved by bees and pollinators.

    Reply

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