New Hardy Smoketree Is A Well-Kept Secret

Have you grown a smoketree or smokebush? When they’re blooming, they always turn the heads of passersby. The flowers look like billows of smoke floating around the tree or shrub.

Members of the botanical genus Cotinus (usually pronounced koh-TIE-nus or koh-TEE-nus), the two common species with their named cultivars can grow into large shrubs or small trees, depending on how they’re pruned and grown.

Why don’t we see more of these unique plants in North Dakota and Minnesota? Because they’re borderline in winter hardiness, until now that is. Named cultivars vary somewhat in hardiness, but most are better suited to zone 4 to zone 5, instead of our zone 3 to zone 4.

There are smokebushes growing in the region that have been sold at locally owned garden centers for years. Although they often aren’t fully winter hardy to the tips, they usually regrow nicely from the base. Besides others sold, Royal Purple, with its pretty purple foliage, is common.

But here’s the best thing ever to come along in smoketrees: it’s called Cotton Candy smoketree, and it’s totally winter-hardy into zone 3. In fact, it survived winter temps down to -51 degrees, which totally killed other smoketrees and smokebushes in the same region. You know what else is fascinating? This smoketree was discovered growing in a home yard at Star Lake, in Ottertail County, Minnesota. Plantsman Brad Walvatne recognized the unusually hardy smoketree in 1996, propagated it, and obtained a plant patent from the U.S. Patent Office. The original plant is believed to be a natural mutation of the Cotinus obovatus species.

Cotton Candy Smoketree

Here are the features of Cotton Candy Smoketree:

  • It’s a heavy producer of showy pink billowy flower plumes in mid-June through mid-July.
  • It grows to a height of between 18 and 25 feet, usually with multiple trunks and branches. It can be pruned to reduce it’s height.
  • It grows to a width of about 15 feet.
  • It’s height, width, and branching make it an excellent small screening tree, large screening shrub, or accent plant.
  • It’s extremely winter hardy, well-adapted to zones 3 and 4.
  • Cotton Candy smoketree grows well in all soil types, including light sands and heavy clays.
  • Fall color is a brilliant red, with tones of copper and purple.
  • Grows well in full sun or part sun.
  • Drought tolerant.

Where can Cotton Candy Smoketree be purchased? We bought a potted Cotton Candy this summer at Lake Country Gardens, Battle Lake, Minn, which is close to the plant’s place of origin. I have seen it occasionally offered at locally owned garden centers in Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding communities. This one isn’t going to be easy to come by, at least for now. I’m writing about it well in advance of next spring’s planting season, so interested homeowners might ask their local garden centers to stock it, as garden centers are completing their orders for spring material.

Fall Color of Cotton Candy Smoketree

This should be interesting, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of this one. Happy Gardening!