Smoke Tree Types: Growing Zones, Smoke Bush Plant Care (Royal Purple)

Man with his finger on his chin, looking at a smoke tree wonders if it’s the same as a purple smoke bush, and if there is a purple tree identification chart that includes the smoke tree growing zones, smoke tree varieties, care tips and planting ideas.

Known for its wispy hair on flower stalks that form a dramatic cloud-like appearance, the Smoke Tree leaves a lasting impression with its looks and vibrant colors.

Gardeners who live in areas where smoke trees grow, know that they can be a beautiful addition to any landscape.

While Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus are the most popular types of smoke trees,3, 4 other types such as the Royal Purple Smoke Tree are also sought after due to their head-turning, stunning beauty.

This complete guide provides everything you need to know to grow your own smoke tree, as well as how to identify smoke trees by their characteristics and where they grow.

Smoke Tree Facts: Why Is the Smoke Bush Plant Popular?

The Smoke Tree comes from the genus Cotinus. It is classified as a small tree or a shrub due to its size. It is also why it is often called the Smoke Bush Plant instead of a tree.

The Smoke Tree earns its name from the growth of wispy hair on its flower stalks that can appear as pink to purple flowers (despite the flowers themselves being insignificant in their growth). Due to their close and upright formation, these hairs give the shrub the appearance of being a puffy smoke cloud.

This makes for a positively stunning appearance and gives the Smoke Tree a highly sought-after status in landscaping and gardening applications.

Smoke Tree


Smoke Tree in an oval frame on green background.
  • Characteristics: The Smoke Tree is a shrub of the genus Cotinus. While it has many varieties, two of its species namely Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus are the most popular
  • Family: Anacardiaceae
  • Genus: Cotinus
  • Leaf: Oval (Cotinus coggygria); Obovate (Cotinus obovatus
  • Bark: Gray-brown, ridged, furrowed
  • Seed: Light green
  • Blossoms: Yellow, panicle
  • Fruit: Brown, pink, drupe
  • Native Habitat: Southern United States
  • Height: 10-15 feet (Cotinus coggygria); 20-30 feet (Cotinus obovatus)
  • Canopy: 10-15 feet (Cotinus coggygria); 20-30 feet (Cotinus obovatus)
  • Type: Deciduous

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Uebermut5728

The Smoke Tree has many types, but two of them stand out in terms of popularity. These are called Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus.

Cotinus coggygria is known as the common Smoke Tree, while Cotinus obovatus is called the American Smoke Tree.

The differences between the two species are outlined in the following table:

SpeciesSizeLeaf TypeOriginFibrous Hair Color
Common Smoke Tree10-15 ft height.
10-15 ft width.
OvalSouth Central Europe to ChinaShowy. Pink to purple/
reddish-purple in fall
American Smoke Tree20-30 ft height.
20-30 ft width.
Obovate/egg-shapedSouthern United StatesLess prominent. Pink to purple/ reddish-orange in fall

You can find both species of Cotinus in the United States. The common Smoke Tree is often found through specific gardening vendors due to its aesthetical popularity. Whereas, the American Smoke Tree is native to the Southern United States, where you can find it around mountainous areas.

With that being said, spotting an American Smoke Tree in the wild is somewhat of a rare opportunity because the shrub is not as widespread as other plants such as the Dogwood Tree.

Photo of the smoke tree with its colorful leaves.

(Image: Ilona Ilyés22)

Between the common Smoke Tree and the American Smoke Tree, the former boasts of more showy hairs on its flower stalks, which in turn give it a puffier appearance that is more cloud-like than the latter.

But the American Smoke Tree makes up for it by carrying more radiant fall foliage, which turns the hairs into brilliant shades of red to orange during autumn.

This also earns the plant the name of the Red Smoke Tree.

How To Identify Smoke Tree

You can identify a Smoke Tree through the distinct characteristic of wispy hair growths along the flower stalks that look like clouds of smoke from a distance.

Depending upon the cultivars, the color of these hair growths may change.

The graphic of the Smoke Tree identification chart with its lead, tree, flowers, seeds, and bark are in oval frames on a green background.

For some, they may appear pink and purple, while for others, these hairs may grow in shades of yellow. Some Smoke Tree varieties may have blue/green leaves, while others may sport red or purple foliage.

Because the Smoke Tree is a small tree or shrub, it does not reach more than 30 feet of height in most cases.

What Do Smoke Tree Leaves Look Like?

The appearance of Smoke Tree leaves depends upon the specific species of Cotinus. For example, the common Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria) has oval leaves, while the American Smoke Tree (Cotinus obovatus) has obovate leaves.

This gives the leaves of Cotinus coggygria an elongated shape with equally-sized ends. In contrast, the leaves of Cotinus obovatus sport an elongated shape with round edges, but with one edge being smaller than the other.

In both species, the leaves are blue-green. On the other hand, some cultivars can have differently-shaped leaf shapes and colors.

For instance, the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree has rounder leaves, while the Royal Purple Smoke Tree has deep purple foliage.

Due to this reason, the main identifier of smoke trees is the formation of fibrous hair that stand upright from flower stalks and give the shrub the appearance of a cloud of smoke.

What Does Smoke Tree Flower Look Like?

The Smoke Tree flower has an insignificant appearance and grows in pinnacles.

Depending on the species, it can be yellow, green, or pink in color.

Photo of the Smoke Tree withs its colorful ends.

(Image: Manfred Richter23)

But despite popular belief, the Smoke Tree Flower does not give the Smoke Tree its cloudy appearance.

While the flowers remain small, it is the fibrous growth of hair from flower stalks that stand upright and make up for a spectacular show that looks like a bush of smoke or clouds.5

Smoke Bush vs Smoke Tree: What’s the Difference?

Smoke bush and Smoke Tree both refer to the same plants from the genus Conitus.6 Since Conitus plants are shrubs, the identifier of bush and tree is interchangeable for them in day-to-day conversations and references.

If you are reading something about Smoke Bush, it means that it is referring to the Smoke Tree and vice versa.

From Cotinus coggygria to Purple Tree, the Smoke Tree Comes in Many Varieties

Apart from Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus, the Smoke Tree has plenty of other varieties that come from cultivars,7 which are plants that are cultivated by selective breeding. This practice is mainly supported by the ornamental status of the Smoke Tree.

Since these cultivars enhance the natural beauty and form of the Smoke Tree even further, they hold their own distinction in the gardening and landscaping community.

Some of the most popular Smoke Tree varieties include the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree, the Dusky Maiden Smoke Tree, the Royal Purple Smoke Tree, the Velvet Cloak Smoke Tree, and the Dwarf Smoke Tree. All of these cultivars bring something different to the table.

For instance, while the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree has yellow foliage, the Dusky Maiden Smoke Tree has burgundy foliage. Other cultivars follow the same approach and offer attributes that set them apart from the common Smoke Tree and the American Smoke Tree.

You can find these cultivars through different online vendors. In some cases, you might even discover them at your local garden centers.

Depending upon your aesthetic, you can find a variety of Smoke Tree plants that you feel comfortable in growing within your own home or landscaping project.

After getting this overview about Smoke Trees, you can easily learn more about Smoke Tree types: growing zones, Smoke bush plant care (Royal Purple).

What’s Different About the Royal Purple Smoke Tree?

The Royal Purple Smoke Tree is a cultivar of Conitus. It is known for its pink-purple flower stalk hairs that stand out against reddish-purple foliage.

This puts together a romantic display of colors that makes this variety of Smoke Tree popular as an ornamental shrub.

(Image: Jens24)

With that being said, Royal Purple Smoke Tree problems include the same issues that come with growing many other Cotinus species.

This may involve plant diseases called leaf rot and verticillium wilt, as well as plant pests known as oblique-banded leafroller and San Jose scale.

Where Can You Buy a Purple Smoke Bush?

You can buy a Purple Smoke Bush through local or online vendors. But before you do, you should check if you live in USDA hardiness zone 5-8.

This helps you determine if your area can provide optimal environmental conditions for your Smoke Tree to thrive.

How Many Smoke Bush Varieties Are There?

There are many varieties of Smoke Tree, with two of the popular species being Cotinus coggygria and Cotinus obovatus. But there are also various cultivars available that include but are not limited to the Winecraft Black Smoke Bush, the Velvet Cloak Smoke Tree, and the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree.

Depending upon your requirements, you can choose a Smoke bush plant that truly appeals to you. This is similar to other popular plants such as the Beech Tree which boast many varieties.

What Is Smoke Tree Pinot Noir?

The Smoke Tree Pinot Noir is not related to the Smoke Tree. But the wine does use the plant’s image as its brand identity.

This makes it associated with the popular Smoke Bush plant.

What Is the Winecraft Black Smoke Bush?

The Winecraft Black Smoke Bush is a cultivar of the Smoke Tree that is created by Proven Winners. It is known for sporting dark tones in the summer but changing those to bright oranges and reds in the fall.

This makes it a great plant to add to your garden for fall foliage.

Smoke Tree Growing Zone Information

Every plant has distinct needs about the environment in which they can thrive the best. In order to help arborists and gardeners fulfill these requirements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has classified growing zones across the United States for different plant species.

By learning about these growing zones, you can determine if you can easily give your Smoke Tree the nourishment and care that it needs to grow optimally.

The USDA growing zones use an area’s annual average minimum winter temperature to label its suitability for different plant species. These zones are categorized across a range of 1-13. You can check more information about these growing zones by visiting the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.2

(Image: Ken McMillan25)

According to the USDA, the Smoke Tree is best grown in hardiness zones 5 to 8.8 This means that if you live in a region that falls under these zones, you can easily emulate the best growing conditions for Smoke Tree.

Besides making sure that you are following the guidelines for a suitable USDA hardiness zone, you can take other steps that help you successfully grow your very own smoke tree.

Planting Tips for Smoke Tree (Cotinus Coggygria)

The beautiful purple to Pink Smoke Tree can seem like a challenging plant to grow due to its sheer beauty. But despite its ethereal appearance, the Smoke Tree is not a high-maintenance shrub.

In fact, it requires low to medium maintenance in order to optimally flourish. Once established, the Smoke Tree can easily live through periods of drought.

The following planting tips for Smoke Tree remain easy to adopt, while still helping you reduce any potential problems that can arise in the process of growing a smoke bush.

When To Plant Smoke Tree for the Best Yield?

You can plant your Smoke Tree either in spring or fall. Both seasons provide ideal conditions for Smoke Tree growth.

But in either period, you need to make sure that you protect the shrub from strong winds as they can be detrimental to its growth.9

Growing Zones for Smoke Tree: Where To Grow

The optimal Smoke Tree growing zone falls between USDA hardiness zone 5-8. If you plant your Smoke Tree in one of these areas, you can expect ideal growth for the shrub without running into significant issues.

This holds true whether you are growing a Smoke Tree from a seedling or a cutting.

What Are the Best Growing Conditions for Smoke Tree?

The best growing conditions for Smoke Tree may include:

  • Loamy soil
  • Well-drained soil
  • Full sun
  • Ideal watering schedule

With that being said, Smoke Trees can thrive in almost any type of soil. You just need to make sure that the soil is well-drained and does not lead the plant to be overwatered.

What Are the Watering Needs for Smoke Tree Plants?

The watering needs for smoke tree plants are pretty straightforward. When the plants are young, you need to treat them to deep watering twice a week.

When the plants get mature, you can reduce your watering to moderate levels and do it once every 10 days.9

Smoke Tree Growth Rate: How Long It Takes To Grow Smoke Tree

The growth rate for Smoke Trees can reach the range of 13-24 inches per year.10 For the common Smoke Tree that can grow up to the range of 10-15 feet, this can be considered a rapid growth rate.3

(Image: Ilona Ilyés27)

For the American Smoke Tree that has a maximum height range of 20-30 feet, this can classify as slow to medium growth.4

How Far Apart to Plant Smoke Tree

When planting your Smoke Tree, you may want to put a distance of 10-15 feet in between your plants.9 Due to its showy formation, only one Smoke Tree is often planted in a single garden

But you can also plant multiple specimens in the same garden and follow this distance guideline.

What Are Some Companion Plants for Growing Smoke Tree?

Some of the most popular companion plants for growing Smoke Tree include:11

  • Pampas Grass
  • Rose Campion
  • Montbretia
  • Russian Sage
  • Sneezeweed

While companion planting is an old practice that is not backed by extensive research, many gardeners and arborists still swear by its effects.12 In some cases, the results may simply be visual but still make your landscaping stand out with a few choice plants.

For instance, planting Lilacs by a Willow Tree may give you lush visuals of rich colors, while putting ferns by a Magnolia Tree may have a more dramatic aesthetic effect. Since the practice practically has no side-effects and only delivers benefits in some shape or form, you may take it up to populate your garden the way you want.

What Are Some Common Pests of the Smoke Tree?

The Smoke Tree is mostly free of pests.3 But it can still suffer from certain unwanted guests including the San Jose scale insect and the obliquebanded leafroller.

You can use an insecticide formulated for the San Jose scale or use targeted management for the obliquebanded leafroller in order to get rid of them.13 14 This can help your plant steer clear of this pesky issue.

Is There a Natural Pest Control for Smoke Tree?

Smoke Trees carry risks of attracting pests such as the obliquebanded leafroller and the San Jose scale insect. Both of these pests can prove hard to get rid of through natural pest control.

Due to this reason, you may need to practice prevention techniques or use targeted chemical treatments.

How To Stop Smoke Tree Disease: Smoke Tree Disease Prevention

Smoke trees can be susceptible to diseases including leaf spot and verticillium wilt. While leaf spot is difficult to cure, there is no cure for verticillium wilt.15 This leaves you to turn to prevention and management practices for these risks.

To prevent the risk of your Smoke Tree catching leaf spot, you can water your plants in the morning to give them plenty of time to dry off under the sunlight. You can also make it a habit not to prune shrubs that are wet.

To reduce the chances of running into verticillium wilt, you can take measures such as not planting species in your garden that were previously infected by verticillium wilt at the same location. Having well-drained soil can also work as a prevention practice.16

(Image: André SAAD26)

If your Smoke Tree catches leaf spot, you can prune diseased areas quickly while also considering the use of a fungicide. In case your Smoke Tree is attached by verticillium wilt, you can prune affected areas, focus on using select fertilizers, and plan on watering only when plants are dry.

These actions cannot cure verticillium wilt, but they can still help you maintain the tree in a better manner.

How Much Sunlight Does Smoke Tree Need Each Day?

The Smoke Tree does well under full sunlight. When planting your Smoke Tree, you should ensure that you fulfill this requirement.

Otherwise, your Smoke Bush plant can wilt and die without getting proper sunlight.

How To Start Growing Smoke Tree From a Seed?

Growing Smoke Tree from a seed is not difficult. But it is a lengthy process that requires some care and patience from your end.

In order to achieve this feat, you first need to scarify the seeds and then store them under controlled temperatures for a few months. For the first 90 days, this temperature ranges around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.17

After this period, this temperature requirement changes to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit for an additional 90-150 days. You can then plant these smoke tree seeds into the ground where they can receive full sun during the day and thrive through moist but well-drained soil.

Due to this reason, many gardeners may turn to growing a Smoke Tree from a cutting instead of a seed.18 This requires you to process the cutting by removing its leaves and bark from one end, before putting it in a pot.

You also need to cover the planted cutting and place it in an area with consistent but low heat. After a few weeks, the cutting may sprout roots, at which point you may plant it in the ground.

Learning More About the Smoke Tree Helps You Welcome It to Your Garden With More Confidence

As a popular ornamental shrub, Smoke Tree can enhance your garden with its spectacular looks. At the same time, the many Smoke Tree varieties in leaf shapes, color, and fall foliage make it easy for you to choose a plant that fits your aesthetic.

By learning more about the Smoke Tree, you can make an informed decision about making this cloud-like shrub a part of your home.

Frequently Asked Questions About Smoke Tree

What Do Smoke Tree Seeds Look Like?

Smoke Tree seeds have an elongated shape and appear green in color. The seeds need a long period after scarification to properly germinate and lead to a successful planting of smoke trees.

Why Is the Smoke Tree Ranch Popular?

The Smoke Tree Ranch is popular because of its rich history as well as its past ownership by Walt Disney. It is located in Palm Springs,[19] California, where it currently operates as a resort.20

Does Disney Own Smoke Tree Ranch Palm Springs?

Walt Disney once owned the Smoke Tree Ranch. But he later sold it in order to bring his plans of building Disneyland to fruition.19

Is There a Difference Between Smoke Tree and Leaf Plum Tree?

The Smoke Tree is a shrub of the genus Conitus, while the Purple Leaf Plum Tree is a shrub from the genus Prunus. Both are entirely different shrubs. But the purple foliage of some Smoke Bush Varieties and the Purple Leaf Plum Tree might make people think that they are the same plant.

Can You Grow a Purple Smoke Tree in Your Garden?

You can easily grow a Purple Smoke Tree in your garden if you live in USDA hardiness zone 5-8. While you may need to care for the plant during the first few weeks with twice a month watering, it requires little maintenance after it has established roots and needs to be watered only thrice a month.

Where Is the Smoke Tree RV Park?

The Smoke Tree RV Park is located in Bakersfield, CA. It offers basic amenities to short-term visitors while also providing additional facilities to long-term stays.21

What Is the Golden Spirit Smoke Tree?

The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree is a cultivar of the genus Cotinus that is known for its distinct golden-yellow leaves. In fall, this foliage turns to shades of pink, orange, and red.

What Is the Dusky Maiden Smoke Tree?

The Dusky Maiden Smoke Tree is a cultivar of Smoke Tree that is known for its burgundy red foliage. The foliage changes its color to a darker shade after it is exposed to the sun and offers bright fall colors to spectators.

What Is the Dwarf Smoke Tree?

The Dwarf Smoke Tree is a cultivar of the Smoke Bush plant that holds up to its name and only reaches 3-6 feet of height. It is cultivated to provide the dramatic Smoke Tree foliage to smaller gardens without taking up much space.

What Is the Velvet Cloak Smoke Tree?

The Velvet Cloak Smoke Tree is a cultivar of the purple tree that is popularized due to its dark foliage. However, the cultivar gets a bad reputation due to its leaf size and growth rate, as well as its response to sunlight in warmer areas.7


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