Smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus)

Last time we discussed the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) but this time I want to talk about the smoke tree, Cotinus obovatus. Note that both can be referred to as “smoke tree” so just be careful — like I always say (starting now), when in doubt, check out the Latin.

View of new Smoke tree, unwrapped

Unwrapped, exposing “creative” right angle bend

View of Smoke tree in box

First view of baby after stork delivery (in Fall)

young smoke tree in ground

2013 (Fall), one year after receiving

Smoke trees are native to these parts and can handle the alkaline soil we have around the DFW area. And they’re tough. I mail-ordered a runt one (because I couldn’t find one at a local nursery), and it got snapped in half by a splitting accursed Bradford pear, and the smoke tree snapped back (pun!) like nothing every happened. I dug up the smoke tree and moved it. It didn’t care. Mine also had this odd right-angle bend in it — one of the disadvantages of mail ordering is that you get what you get — but the yearly growth has gradually straightened it out as the diameter of the trunk grew.

It has the same beading effect on its leaves as the smoke bush, where water sits on them like they’ve been waxed. Unlike the smoke bush, though, it’s leaves are green.

Reddish emerging spring growth

New spring growth emerges reddish

New spring growth

Reddish spring growth fades to a pleasant green

leaves with water beads

Now, with “sheeting action”!

closeup of browned leaves

Ratty summer-end leaves

View of spring leaves and flower cluster

Spring leaves, with flowers but not much smoke

Closeup of fall leaves

Beautiful fall leaf color

Enough chatting. Time for lightning round, go!


  • Handles alkaline soil
  • Grows extremely quickly here in DFW, several feet per year when young
  • Doesn’t need much water once established
  • Gorgeous new reddish growth in spring
  • Nice fall color
  • Smoky spring flowers (though mine hasn’t done much of this yet)


  • It’s hard to find at nursery
  • Mine’s leaves look a bit discolored and ragged toward the end of the summer (probably my fault because I probably overwater it because I foolishly put water-loving plants all around it)
  • Spring growth coincides with windy weather here so I always lose several foot-long segments of new growth because the wind snaps them off before they harden
  • One of the branches of mine did the pom-pom-on-a-stick thing, growing several feet and then sprouting leaves at the tip. The wind bent it while the new growth was soft and it hardened into a funky curve that I hope will be covered with foliage soon

I love this tree. It’s native, it grows fast, it’s attractive, and not everyone has it. So go get one (but not all of you because then it will knock out my last point there).

2015 spring smoke tree

2015 (Spring)

Smoke tree with curved pom pom branch

Dig my funky curve

closeup of trunk

Trunk view, end of Summer 2017

Full view of smoke tree

End of summer, 2017

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