Golden Spirit Smoke Trees: Everything You Need to Know
The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree gets its name from its stunning foliage. These ornamental trees are highly valued for their springtime lime green leaves, which mature into a beautiful golden color as the seasons pass.
As a deciduous tree, it will drop the leaves in fall and grow again when the winter has passed.
These lovely trees are a fantastic addition to any yard and easy to grow. Read on to learn everything there is to know about the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree.
What Are Golden Spirit Smoke Trees?
Golden Spirit Smoke Trees or Cotinus coggygria are deciduous trees native to Southern Europe and Central China, where their full brightly colored foliage is prized in nature and ornamental planting.
There are other Smoke Trees as well, but the Golden Spirit is a unique species. Nevertheless, you can easily grow these imported golden trees in hardiness zones four through eight.
The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree is also known as the Wig Tree, Venetian Sumac, Young Fustic, Smokebush, or Golden Spirit Smokebush and is sometimes referred to as a deciduous shrub.
Thanks to the ‘bushy’ nature of the leaf and stem spread on this tree, it is often picked out by gardeners who intend to keep it as a low-to-the-ground shrub.
Although they will stay smaller when pruned excessively, these trees can grow as tall as 4 to 5 meters high.
Where Do Golden Spirit Smoke Trees Get Their Name?
The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree gets its name from its two most attractive characteristics.
The leaves turn a beautiful yellow-orange hue when they are mature, which is where the ‘golden’ part comes from. However, it is the flowers that give this tree its ‘smoke.’
The pale yellow to pink blooms cover the tree in the summer months, giving it an ethereal smoke-like appearance.
Golden Spirit Smoke Tree Flowers leave behind fluffy pink ‘hairs’ around the flower heads that are often called ‘plumes’ for their unique display. The flowers turn a lovely shade of grey late in summer, adding to the ‘smoke.’
Planting Tips for Growing Golden Spirit Smoke Trees
Planting Golden Spirit Smoke Trees is relatively easy. This species thrives outdoors in hardiness zones 4-8, covering much of the United States.
Moreover, Smoke Trees require relatively little water and enjoy full to partial sun in most areas, with at least eight hours per day of light.
The more sunshine your Smoke Tree gets, the more brilliant the foliage will be when it comes in and matures.
The simplest form of propagation for Golden Spirit Smoke Trees is semi-hardwood cuttings. Prepare a pot or container with sterile potting soil before cutting.
Always use clean, sharp-cutting tools such as knives or pruners to cut your stem below the node from a healthy, pest, and disease-free plant.
Choose a branch with no leaves or flowers. Ideally, you want an unbranched, straight piece around 4-6 inches long.
Once you have your cutting(s), dip them in rooting hormone and plant them in your prepared soil and give it only enough water to settle the soil before covering it with a plastic bag or the top of a clean, 2-liter bottle with the cap on to create a small greenhouse.
Remove the lid if there’s too much condensation to prevent rotting your cuttings and give it several weeks to root before feeding, and keep it indoors for the first two growing seasons.
Watering a Smoke Tree is straightforward. This plant will not be happy if it is soggy or damp all the time, so only water during the growing season.
Soil should be evenly moist but never wet to the touch. Add a couple of inches of mulch to the top to help retain the minimal water.
Typically, these beautiful trees are drought resistant once they are well established, but you may want to water more frequently when it is excessively dry or hot outside.
Many plants and trees are picky about their soil. However, Golden Spirit Smoke Trees are fairly easygoing in this respect.
Drainage is everything to this species, and they will tolerate poor, rocky soil where many other plants cannot thrive and grow.
The Smoke Tree enjoys sand, loam, chalk, and clay, but it adapts easily. Smoke trees do not do well in pots, even large ones, but they make a lovely privacy screen when kept as hedges and planted near enough to one another for the branches to touch eventually.
Regular fertilizer will make your Smoke Tree produce more leaves and flowers. Luckily, like their soil preference, these trees are versatile in their feeding styles.
You can use stakes, granules, or liquid fertilizers in 18-24-16, 20-30-20, or 20-20-20 to help keep Golden Spirit Smoke Trees healthy. Organic fertilizer like manure will work just as well.
Unless you are intentionally pruning the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree to keep it small and shrub-like, it requires little trimming throughout the year beyond minor shaping.
In late winter or early spring, gardeners who want to enhance the leaf color and promote growth should cut back the Smoke Trees. However, exercise caution as too much pruning will hinder flower growth later in the year.
Owners of young bushy Smoke Trees who wish to encourage more tree-like growth should evaluate the multi-stemmed bush when it is 2-3 years old and trim away some of the flimsier outer stems in late winter of that year.
Doing this will offer a more solid trunk. Meanwhile, the flowers should be cut when they bloom as waiting too late in the season can result in less attractive, grey flowers.
In addition to being a lovely, showy plant with lush foliage for privacy, there are several other benefits to growing Golden Spirit Smoke Trees:
- They attract butterflies when they are in bloom.
- Some florists and gardeners use the blooms for flower arrangements, which is rare for a tree, though not unheard of.
- This unique, golden tree has scorch-resistant leaves that are very hardy in most conditions.
There are very few pests that cause any significant damage to the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree. Deer aren’t especially fond of eating them, and Smoke Trees are resistant to most insects and fungal infections.
Unfortunately, verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungal infection, is somewhat common. There is no cure for verticillium wilt, but knowledgeable gardeners can manage it with fertilizer, proper watering, and pruning to prolong the life of an infected tree.
Rabbits can also do significant damage to the Smoke Trees, especially in the winter when they are dormant.
It’s best to prevent troublesome bunnies from entering your yard whenever possible by taking preventative steps before they eat your Smoke Trees.
Characteristics of the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree
The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree is a semi-hardwood known for its broad, circular leaves, ranging from brilliant chartreuse in spring to a golden summer color and then turning red or burgundy in the fall, offering a long season of interest.
These trees begin as small hedge-like bushes and can grow for over a decade, eventually rising above four meters high and branching out to around two meters wide.
The blooms are small and surrounded by filaments or hairs that are dense yet light resembling a pink smoke. Toxic sap is a skin irritant, and this deciduous tree is considered mildly toxic if ingested.
How Big Do Golden Spirit Smoke Trees Grow?
A Golden Spirit Smoke Tree will grow roughly a foot each year. At their full height, these trees reach anywhere from 8 to 15 feet high. However, there are ways to keep them smaller if you prefer a more compact tree.
By pruning your Golden Spirit Smoke Tree regularly, you can do much more than shape the foliage. If you want to prevent this type of tree from reaching the 8-15-foot mark, a more significant annual trim is required.
With proper care and maintenance, you should be able to reduce the height of your tree permanently, so it tops out around 6 to 10 feet high instead.
Those seeking an even smaller tree will be pleasantly surprised to learn that Golden Spirit Smoke Trees have also been successfully kept as bonsai trees.
If you are willing and able to put in the time and effort it takes, you can create a perfect miniature tree with the same stunning leaves and flowers.
Golden Spirit Smoke Trees in Colder Seasons
As a deciduous tree or shrub, Golden Spirit Smoke Trees only have their prized leaves for part of the year.
Gardeners who are hoping for a colorful autumn leaf display will be thrilled by the Smoke Tree.
As the season begins to turn cold, the leaves go from their summer gold to shades of amber, deep red, and burgundy, leaving a stunning sanguine display for fall holidays.
The large, round leaves provide a natural seasonal decoration and superb photographic opportunities, framing homes and driveways in vivid hues. Plus, they make beautiful plies for children and pets to jump in.
In winter, the tree becomes dormant. Dropping the leaves in autumn is a form of water conservation that helps keep the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree alive when temperatures freeze.
Sunlight is scarce in winter, and the tree will virtually stop growing. Its metabolism will slow, and the need for water and nutrients drops to near zero.
Unfortunately, like all deciduous trees, these changes are triggered by weather, so an early freeze or too-early thaw can cause problems for your Smoke Tree.
Historical Significance and Awards
Golden Spirit Smoke Trees were widely used throughout Europe. The leaves and branches were the sources of a dye that was often used on wool and silk.
Although the stain didn’t have the longevity of other yellows used at the time and tended to become more of a russet hue over time, it was widely available and easy to make.
Moreover, the ‘Fustic’ dye worked well with other yellows and was often part of compound colors.
In 16th century England, the term for this unique tree’s dye was simply called ‘fustic,’ making it difficult to tell whether someone was referring to the yellow European plant dye or the one from the central American mulberries Morus tinctoria or Chlorophora tinctoria known as “Old Fustic.”
Eventually, the two shades were combined to create a lovely orange color, confusing the issue even further.
Until the 19th-century, fustic dye remained economically significant and was seen all over Europe, though it was arguably most popular in Italy.
In Europe, smoke trees were used as a dye plant for both cloth and leather tanning, producing the color yellow fustic. Although it contains toxic sap, apothecaries used it as a coagulant.
The Royal Horticultural Society gave Golden Spirit Smoke Trees the Award of Garden Merit (A.G.M.).
The distinctive colors and blooms, hardiness, and extremely long season of interest, stretching from spring until the leaves finally fall in autumn, garnered special attention.
Only this specific cultivar out of the numerous Smoke Tree varieties, the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree, holds such a distinction.
Golden Spirit Smoke Tree Toxicity Warnings
The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree has toxic sap. Typically, the sap causes skin irritation with itching and rashes, though it is possible to have a worse reaction if you are allergic.
It is best to handle it with care and wear gardening gloves when pruning this species.
It’s also important to note that the Smoke Tree is mildly toxic if ingested and may cause intestinal irritation, stomach cramps, and other problems. Keep children away from the pretty leaves and flowers.
There’s no evidence that the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree is toxic to dogs and no information at all on its effect on cats.
Additionally, the Smoke Tree is considered safe to burn despite the mildly toxic sap. However, inhaling tree smoke of any kind is dangerous regardless of its toxicity and may cause throat and lung irritation or other unpleasant side effects.
The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree is a beautiful, lush option for landscaping. The widespread branches provide ample privacy and shade for homes in much of Europe and the US.
Early leaves on Smoke Trees are beautiful chartreuse or lime green, and they mature into a golden hue for summer. Small yellow to pink flowers produce sprays of smoke-like hairs that give this tree its name and unique hazy appearance.
Natural dyes that were once widely used and highly prized can still be made from the leaves and branches of this tree, also known as ‘yellow fustic.’
However, gardeners should wear gloves to avoid skin irritation from the mildly toxic sap when pruning.
Known for its versatility as well as its famous dye, this lovely ornamental shrub or tree can be pruned down to a tiny bonsai or grown over ten feet tall. In the autumn, the amber to burgundy leaves is a spectacular display.
If you live in hardiness zones 4-8, the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree is a must-have for any colorful yard.