American Smoke Tree

Cotinus obovatus

Sometimes called Texas smoke tree, this small, multi-trunked tree packs a big punch. The late spring flowers are absolutely stunning.  Mainly, we grow it for its striking form and foliage. The leaves, which emerge slightly pink, changes to a deep, bluish-green, then finally to a striking magenta in the fall. Smoke tree is best planted as what landscape architects call a “specimen.”  That means that it should be set apart from much of the rest of the landscape, allowing it to draw the eye to its stunning beauty. Back to those flowers, which are how the plant received its common name in reference to smoke. Six to ten- inch flower clusters have reddish-gray to deep purple, very long, thin petioles, giving them the appearance of puffs of smoke. Smoke tree gets 15 to 30 feet tall and about half as wide and is widely planted in the Southeastern U.S., where they’re native to rocky soils and often found on mountainous terrain. The more you can mimic its native region, the better, so water sparingly and don’t fertilize this tree. Our viewer photo this week comes from Bell County Master Gardener Rowena Fengel  of her lovely yellow bearded iris blooming in January. She mentions that it’s no wonder plants in her garden in Temple are confused, since it was 78 degrees at her house on Christmas day!  That’s Texas weird weather for you!