Many people have come into our yard and exclaimed, "What is that?" It is a smoke tree, named for the plumes of feathery flowers on the end of the branches that look like pink smoke.
The plumes remain on the tree for the better part of a month. A member of the Cotinus family, the tree's wood and bark chips were used in dyes in the Middle Ages. It becomes a clear yellow dye when used with tin and aluminum, or a pink color; and mixed with indigo, the dye becomes a beautiful green.
The leaves are a deep purple now, but will turn a bright scarlet in the fall, and the color improves when fertilizing and watering are kept to a minimum! The tree is actually a shrub but will grow into a nice tree shape and kept that way if you prune it back in the early spring. It will become leggy and unsightly if you don't. (Mine is getting that way.) However, because it is related to the sumac, wear gloves when you handle it.
Look around for this tree at local specialty nurseries and place it in the garden where you can enjoy it in the spring. This tree is also a magnate for a beautiful little orange bird (see photo in gallery). I do not know what this bird is called but it "flits" rapidly from branch to branch.