Plant of the Week: Grace Smokebush

Photo by Juan ValentinThe Grace smokebush, Cotinus ‘Grace,’ is a beacon of fall as the landscape shifts into winter mode. Photo by Juan Valentin

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

EnlargeSmokebush gif by Steven Severinghaus

Cotinus ‘Grace,’ the Grace smokebush, is hard to miss on the High Line these days. The tall branches, with their deep red foliage, hover and sway above the autumn landscape of browning grasses and perennials. Grace smokebush is a deciduous shrub, and its form, flowers and foliage make it an asset to the garden throughout the year. In the spring, bright burgundy foliage turns a greenish-red, and is followed by plumes of flowers with billowy hairs which turn a smoky pink. These hairs give the tree the appearance of being covered in puffs of smoke (hence the common name "smokebush"). In the fall, the red foliage deepens, and lingers a little bit longer than most of the autumn leaves that have already passed; the Grace smokebush is a beacon of fall as the landscape shifts into winter mode. Grace smokebush can be pruned hard in the spring to yield brighter foliage, or lightly to produce more summertime smoky flowers.

Cotinus ‘Grace’ is a hybrid of the European Cotinus coggygria and a different cultivar (‘Velvet Cloak’) of the native American smoketree, Cotinus obovatus. The wood of the American smoketree was once used for making fence posts and tool handles, and was prized for its colorful wood – it was used so much as a source for yellow and orange dyes during the Civil War that the American smoketree was almost harvested to extinction. The wood of Cotinus coggygria is still used for dyes in China today, where it thrives in many diverse landscape conditions.

A member of the cashew family (Anacardiaceae), Cotinus are also closely related to mangoes, sumacs, and poison ivy. Although it is quite rare, contact with Cotinus foliage can cause a light skin rash, and most gardeners are wise to protect themselves while working with the plant.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
On the High Line at Little West 12th Street and West 16th Streets

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