Let’s talk about smoke trees. Now, there are two types out there that people talk about, and most of the time they’re referring to Cotinus coggygria, if you want to get all fancy and Latin-y. That one is a non-native plant that is also sometimes referred to as “smoke bush.” I’ll refer to it as smoke bush here to keep from confusion with the other smoke tree, Cotinus obovatus, which I’ll discuss in a later article.
As with all of the plants I write about, you can learn most of what you need to know from the web, but I’ll give my experience with them in the alkaline clay soils around Dallas, Texas (zone 8a). But here’s a quick summary in case you’re too lazy: small tree / large bush, beautiful burgundy leaves (at least for the Royal Purple variety), cool purple-tinged wispy cotton-candy-looking flowers in spring. Water beads up on the leaves after a rain. A gorgeous plant when all’s well.
The web says it’s drought-tolerant and ready for full sun, but in my last house I planted it outside a kitchen window that only got a few hours of direct sun (albeit the hot Western bits) and was shaded the rest of the day. It looked roasted from mid-summer on — the leaf edges brown and crispy. Granted, that full sun was likely doubled by the reflected light from the kitchen window, and I didn’t give it much extra water other than what the yard received.
I’ve never tried to grow it in the shade, but I’ve seen it in a spot around here where it only got partial sun and it looked healthy. You might be tempted to trim it though because it pushes out these tall leggy stalks with a ball of leaves at the end like a pom-pom on a stick. If you trim it, it will grow more bushy, but you’ll be limiting it’s “smoke” flowers because it blooms off “old wood” and you just pruned off that old wood. Tough call there, but I would prefer to prune it personally.
Bottom line: a beautiful plant with some caveats. If it’s in full sun, be prepared to water it. If it gets leggy, prune it back but know you’ll lose a season of flowers.