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Smoke Tree Information

By Nancy Wagner ; Updated September 21, 2017
Songbirds find the flowers of the smoke tree a great food source.
thick waxwing on a branch. image by wrangler from Fotolia.com

The striking smoky pink color of the flowers from the smoke tree makes it highly desirable in the garden or landscape year-round. The tree offers beauty in the spring and summer with the blooms and striking reddish-purple foliage. In the fall, the foliage turns shades of yellow, red and purple. Even in the winter, the twisted branches make it visually interesting.


Smoke tree grows up to 15 feet in height and spreads to 12 feet in width. The multi-stemmed deciduous tree features small flowers that individually offer little appeal. But, when thousands of them blanket the tree, the effect resembles a hazy pink color resembling smoke that starts in June and lasts through August. The foliage also looks beautiful, starting with bluish-green leaves that turn multiple shades of colors.


The tree thrives in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8, growing in almost any soil a gardener throws at it as long as it receives full sun or partial shade. The drought tolerant tree requires little water once it becomes established, but water should be applied regularly until the tree acclimatizes to its new environment. The tree also grows from seeds planted in the autumn.


Eurasian smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) grows in the wild in southern Europe, Asia and Chile. The tree also grows in gardens in the United States. The American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) grows wild in the southeastern regions of the United States from Tennessee south to Alabama and west to eastern Texas. American smoketree remains the larger of the two varieties although the seed heads tend to be smaller than the Eurasian variety.


Smoke tree works as a small tree or large bush, and looks great when planted as a border shrub or as a group of trees. The tree also makes a great focal point for gardens with its striking foliage and profusion of blossoms. The tree works beautifully in small gardens where space remains a premium.

Seed Collection

The smoky flowers ripen into seed heads in late summer or early fall and may be harvested for planting or sharing as soon as they mature. Bagging the seed heads helps capture the ripening seeds so they don’t fall to the ground. Remove the seed heads once they dry on the plant. The seeds may be stored or planted immediately.


Smoke tree requires little pruning since it naturally grows in a desirable branching form. Heavier pruning may be required to keep the tree small for shrubs or hedges. The tree even grows back when cut back to the ground level to keep it from getting too tall. To keep the tree compact-sized, the tree grows best in dry soil, requiring little water.


The smoky flowers not only attract gardeners with their show-stopping beauty, but birds, butterflies and hummingbirds also find the tree highly attractive. Even after gardeners collect the seeds, plenty remain for songbirds and small mammals to enjoy as a food source.


About the Author


Nancy Wagner is a marketing strategist and speaker who started writing in 1998. She writes business plans for startups and established companies and teaches marketing and promotional tactics at local workshops. Wagner's business and marketing articles have appeared in "Home Business Journal," "Nation’s Business," "Emerging Business" and "The Mortgage Press," among others. She holds a B.S. from Eastern Illinois University.