A deciduous shrub, up to 15 ft high, of round, bushy habit, and often considerably wider than it is high; the branchlets glabrous. Leaves simple, glabrous, orbicular or obovate, rounded or slightly notched at the apex; 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, with well-marked parallel veins and a stalk about half the length of the blade. Panicles loose, terminal, much-branched, many of the thread-like, final ramifications bearing no flower but developing a large number of silky hairs. During July the whole inflorescence (6 to 8 or more inches long and wide) turns a pale flesh colour, afterwards a smoky grey. Flowers few and small; fruit dry, prominently veined, one-seeded, 1⁄4 in. across.
Native of Middle and S. Europe, extending eastwards to the Himalaya and China. In the late summer few hardy shrubs are more striking and beautiful than this. It produces its inflorescences so abundantly that the entire plant becomes covered with a filmy pinkish envelope. The leaves remain long on the plant, turning yellow or red before they fall. The wood is yellowish, and a good yellow dye is obtained from the twigs. Several popular names have been given to it besides the one quoted above, such as ‘smoke plant’, ‘burning bush’, and ‘wig-tree’, all in allusion to the characteristic inflorescence. This shrub, like its American ally, does not require a very rich soil, as it then grows too much and gives little flower.
cv. ‘Flame’. – Autumn colour brilliant orange-red.
cv. ‘Foliis Purpureis’. – Leaves purplish when young, later green or purplish green; inflorescence usually pink. An old form, the predecessor and parent of the modern purple-leaved cultivars. It was possibly a seed-strain rather than a clone.
cv. ‘Notcutt’s Variety’. – A selection from ‘Foliis Purpureis’ raised by Messrs Notcutt of Woodbridge, Suffolk, in 1915 and given an Award of Merit in 1921. Leaves dark maroon-purple; inflorescence purplish pink. Also known as ‘Foliis Purpureis Notcutt’s Variety’ and ‘Rubrifolius’. It was given the Award of Garden Merit in 1930 under the incorrect name Rhus cotinus foliis purpureis (see above); the epithet atropurpureus has also been wrongly applied to this clone. One of the finest of purple-leaved shrubs.
f. purpureus (Dupuy-Jamain) Rehd. Rhus cotinus var. purpureus Dupuy-Jamin; Rhus cotinus var. atropurpurea Burvenich – Inflorescence in some shade of purplish pink; leaves green. In naming this variant, Dupuy-Jamin remarked (Rev. Hort., 1870, p. 567) that it occurred fairly frequently when the species was raised from seed.
cv. ‘Royal Purple’. – Leaves darker purple than in ‘Notcutt’s Variety’; also known as ‘Kromhout’ after the raisers Messrs Kromhout of Boskoop, Holland.