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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - June 29, 2011

From: Beverly Hills, CA
Region: California
Topic: Plant Identification, Trees
Title: Smoketree not flowering in Beverly Hills CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Why is my Smoke tree not flowering? It is big and the leaves are beautiful but no blooms.

ANSWER:

There are two plants in our Native Plant Database that have the common name "smoke tree." One is Cotinus obovatus (American smoke tree), which this USDA Plant Profile map shows does not grow natively west of Texas. You can follow the plant link to our webpage on this tree, read the description and see if that is what you are growing. Also, here are some pictures from Google.

The other "smoke tree" in our database is Psorothamnus spinosus (Smoketree). Again, here are pictures from Google to help you identify your plant. According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, this tree grows in the southwestern border states of California, not actually in Los Angeles County, but close enough that the plant would probably be fine there. We are going to go with that particular tree, in hopes that is the one you have in your garden.

Smokethorn or smoke tree is a spiny, intricately branched, nearly leafless shrub or small tree with an overall gray appearance except when covered with a profusion of violet or indigo-blue flower spikes. It grows to 10 to 20 ft. tall, blooms blue and purple in June and July, requires full sun and sandy soils. According to our website on this plant:  Native Habitat: Desert washes below 1500 ft. Somehow, this doesn't sound like Beverly Hills, California.

So, we are going to Scenario No. 3. We think you may have a non-native smoketree, Cotinus coggygria, native from southern Europe to central China. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the areas in which those plants grow natively. We have no personal experience with this plant and, of course, it will not appear in our Native Plant Database. We will go to the Internet and see if we can find information there that might help you.

This USDA Plant Profile map shows that this plant has been introduced only to northeastern states and eastern Canada, as well as Utah. We realize this tree was probably bought locally, but you need to understand that because a plant is purchased locally doesn't mean it will thrive locally, or even survive.

The most complete discussion of this plant that we found was on Floridata. One line of particular interest in that article is: "The actual flowers are inconspicuous little yellowish green blossoms that appear in early summer, but the long pinkish filaments on the stems of the bloom clusters create a striking cloudlike effect through the summer."

 

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