Common Name: Cotton Candy™ American smoketree

Scientific Name: 
Family: Anacardiaceae
Genus: Cotinus
Species:obovatus 'Northstar'

Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8 
Height: 10 to 18 ft
Width: 10 to 15 ft

Common Characteristics:

This small tree or large shrub is a cultivar of American smoketree (C. obovatus). It has a medium growth rate and round form. The leaves are obovate to elliptical in shape with a round or blunt tip. They are dull green above and slightly paler underneath, covered with silky hairs. In the fall, the foliage turns a brilliant red and orange. The bark is thin and scaly and appears gray or blackish. New growth twigs are slender with a whitish bloom, turning brown as they mature. Tiny, insignificant, dioecious, yellowish-green flowers bloom in June. The long stalks of the flowers are covered in billowy hairs that turn a purplish pink, giving the appearance of smoke hence the name. The fruit is pale brown and oblong and flat in shape, maturing in the summer.

Where it Grows:

Cotton Candy™ American smoketree is tolerant of drought and urban conditions. Full sun to part shade is best for planting. Prefers moist, well-drained alkaline soils. Naturally, they can be found growing in limestone rocky uplands and ravines. It is also possible to find them in hardwood forests. 

How it's Used:

It is mainly used as an ornamental in residential areas due to its showy fall foliage and smoky appearance. It can be used under powerlines, as a specimen, or as a hedge. It is deer resistant so this is a great substitute for areas that are heavily browsed. The wood was once used for making a yellow dye. 

Ecosystem Services:

It can be browsed by wildlife and a potential food source for small mammals.

Where it's Native To:

Cotton Candy™ American smoketree has a small native range in the United States. It can be found growing in areas of Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Known Varieties and Their Traits:

  • Grace smoketree (Cotinus 'Grace'): This is another cultivar of American smoketree. It is a hybrid of Cotinus obovatus and Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak'. Large pink flower panicles with  4 to 6 inch long blue-green leaves. Can be a small tree or large shrub reaching 15 to 20 feet high.


There are no serious disease or insect problems. 


'American smoke tree'. The Morton Arboretum. Found online:

'Continus obovatus'. Missouri Botanical Garden. Found online:

'Continus obovatus'. Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Flower Center. Found online:

Little, E. L. (n.d.). National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees; Eastern Edition. (Original work published 1980)