The smoke tree is known for its spectacular color — smoldering yellow-oranges, flaming reds and smoky red-purples. (Richie Steffen)

The smoke tree is known for its spectacular color — smoldering yellow-oranges, flaming reds and smoky red-purples. (Richie Steffen)

Great Plant Pick: Cotinus obovatus, American smoke tree

This smokebush is known for its spectacular color — smoldering yellow-oranges, flaming reds and smoky red-purples.

What: A rare native of the southeastern United States, Cotinus obovatus — the American smoke tree — is a choice tree for any garden. This typically multistemmed deciduous tree is widely known for its spectacular autumn color. The rounded, deep-green leaves erupt into smoldering yellow-oranges, flaming reds and deep red-purples in early October. Summer brings billowy, smoke-like inflorescences of hazy pink that will last for a month or more. Almost harvested to extinction in the mid 1800s for use as a yellow dye, the small tree has slowly recovered in the wild and is becoming a popular landscape plant. When broken, the twigs reveal a bright orange-yellow wood and an unusual fruity-aromatic sap.

Where: This smokebush thrives in full sun to light shade, although the fall color is brighter with more sun. Plant in a location with well-drained soil.

Size: The landscape tree will grow to be 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide when mature.

Care: Provide the smoke tree with occasional watering during dry weather. It can grow awkwardly as a young plant, but will become fuller as it matures. With minimal pruning, it will naturally form a small tree over time.

— Richie Steffen, Great Plant Picks

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