This Plant's Purple Foliage is a Springtime Staple in Gathering Place's Gardens
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Horticulture Stories


Stories from the park's horticulture team

This Plant's Purple Foliage is a Springtime Staple in Gathering Place's Gardens

By Chris Gabbard, Director of Horticulture

Every once in a while, a plant will stand out and demand to be appreciated. Recently, I received a request from a guest in the park about the identification of a really interesting plant adorned with purple foliage—the smoke tree, Continus coggygriaWe receive many questions about this plant each year, and for good reason. The deep reddish purple foliage is eye-catching, but even more so are the airy panicles of flowers that the plant gets its name from. The flowers appear like soft plumes of smoke floating around the plant in late spring.

This species is native to temperate Asia and Europe and was introduced to the United States in the 1950s. Interestingly, this plant belongs to the plant family of Anacardiacea, which includes species like sumacs, economically important cashews, and much reviled poison ivy.

When visiting, you may notice a variety of pruning techniques as we often cut back some of the purple smoke trees in the springtime.

A recently pruned purple smoke tree.

A purple smoke tree (left) and a native smoke tree (right) side by side.

Another fun fact about this beautiful plant is that it has a North American cousin, our native smoke tree, Continus obovatus. This species is native to rocky areas from Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Oklahoma. It produces the same beautiful panicles of flowers but features a bluish green leaf and yellowheart wood. We have both the purple smoke tree and the native smoke tree on display at Gathering Place, and Sky Garden is where you can view them. 

A tall and flourishing native smoke tree.


The yellowheart wood of the native smoke tree.

Bright moments, and see you in the park! 


Chris is a native Tulsan who has worked in the green industry for over 35 years with experience in aquatic gardening, arboriculture, greenhouse production, park horticulture, and zoology. He has a passion for the interface between ornamental, natural landscapes, and how they enrich the lives for those who visit them as well as the habitat they provide for wildlife. Chris is a Certified Arborist through the International Association of Arboriculture and is Tree Risk Assessment Qualified. He is excited to serve as Director of Horticulture for Gathering Place.

Posted by Sydney Brown at 11:19