Sumac has a close relative that has become a very popular specimen for garden beds and lawns.
Smoke tree and American Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus) are native to the U.S., specifically from TN to TX, USDA zones 4 to 9. In the wild, American smoke tree grows naturally into a large shrub.
Smoke trees lose their leaves in the winter but in the spring their new growth and fluffy clusters of flowers attract admirers. Those fluffy clusters resemble smoke, giving the plant its common name. The plants have no insect or disease problems.
Smoke tree or Smoke bush grows relatively slowly to a height of 10 or 15 feet and 10 feet wide. It is known to be drought tolerant but looks its best if watered during periods of drought. Do not keep the soil wet.
When growing Smoke trees, gardeners can treat them like crape myrtles in that they can be allowed to grow into a multi-stemmed shrub or grown as a low branching tree with a central trunk.
They can be cut back in late winter like any shrub. The result is lush growth in the spring, keeping the plant to 6 or 8 feet. The flowers are all cut off with this method but the dense branching and leaves make a good screen. Once you start cutting Smoke trees in the winter, it has to be done every year or two in order to prevent weak branches.
American Smoke trees can be grown from softwood cuttings taken in the summer, from seeds, and by layering.
Smoke tree is an excellent substitute for Japanese maple trees where a small, colorful tree is desired. There are several varieties with different color combinations.
Daydream Smoke tree grows to 10 feet tall and is known for its plentiful flowers that create the appearance of having lots of smoke.
Golden Spirit smoke tree, Cotinus coggygria Ancot, has gold-green leaves that become lime green, then orange and red. Ancot grows 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide in zones 5 to 8. The bright green leaves hold their color best with afternoon shade.
Grace smoke tree has burgundy-purple leaf veins and stems spring through summer and then turns orange in the fall. Grace grows up to 30 feet tall and wide in zones 5 to 8.
Nordine smoke tree has burgundy-bronze leaves in the summer and red-orange leaves in the fall. It grows 15 feet tall and wide and prefers the colder areas of zones 5 to 8.
Norcutt’s Variety smoke tree has wine colored leaves that become red-orange in the fall. Maximum size is 15 by 15 feet.
Pink Champagne smoke tree has green leaves with a pink-ish edge. The fall color is red and orange. Pink Champagne is slightly smaller at 10 feet by 10 feet. The flowers are also pink. Zones 5 to 8.
Royal Purple smoke tree has red and purple on its leaves with scarlet fall color. It matures at 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
Velvet Cloak smoke tree has purple-red leaves during the summer and bright red color in the fall. It will become 12 by 12 feet when it is mature.
Smoke bush Young Lady is a new variety that grows only 8 feet tall with an abundance of cream-pink flowers.
Smoke bushes are available from local nurseries, Sooner Plant Farm in Tahlequah (www.soonerplantfarm.com) and Hill Country Natives in TX (http://hillcountrynatives.net).