En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - April 21, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Wilting American Smoke Tree in Texas
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I planted a young American smoke tree last fall (mid-November) and it put out a good show of tentative new leaves this spring. Then to keep the tree form I clipped some little shrubby start ups at the base, sealing them with Spectracide pruning seal, and we got a hard frost that night. The next morning all the leaves were wilted. I've given it two weeks and it has not recovered. It still has juice in the veins but is not as green as I expected. Did I kill my tree?


Cotinus obovatus (American smoke tree) are interesting shrubs (or trees if trained this way). The leaves are attractive, but it is the flowers and fruit clusters that look like masses of smoke that really attract attention. I don’t think the pruning and subsequent use of pruning sealant has affected your plant. More likely it wilted because of the freezing temperature that happened the night afterward. Since it is not dropping its leaves, the stems and buds are still fine. The leaves just took a cold temperature hit and perhaps froze on the edges but it doesn't sound like they froze through the entire leaf. Also as a young and relatively newly transplanted tree it will be more susceptible to cold damage than an established tree. Remember that this is a tough plant that thrives on neglect and should not be over-watered or over-fertilized. Patience is the key right now. As long as some portions of the leaves are green and normal looking the tree will continue photosynthesizing and will be producing its own food. If not then the tree may drop its leaves and send out a new set.

Here’s a Mr. Smarty Plants question and answer about cold damage to an olive tree (the principles are the same for your smoke tree).


From the Image Gallery

American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

American smoke tree
Cotinus obovatus

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Live oak leaves not dropping from Austin
April 29, 2014 - We had a 65 gallon live oak planted last October. We watered it regularly and it was green all through the winter. In March the leaves started to turn brown but never dropped, as they should have. ...
view the full question and answer

Trimming of Escarpment Oak from Austin
May 18, 2014 - We have a 2-year-old quercus fusiformis in our front yard and have been advised by some people that we need to remove the bottom branches and trim the ends of the branches that are hanging far down. ...
view the full question and answer

Loss of blooms in potted plants in Hawaii
November 11, 2007 - My lanai is in strong afternoon sun and no matter what "full sun" plants I try to grow they quickly stop blooming. Plumeria, Hibiscus, Echinacea, even Bougainvillea...they continue to grow but lose...
view the full question and answer

Time to trim oak trees in Austin
October 29, 2011 - We have several large oak trees in desperate need of a good trimming. Given that the trees have had a very stressful drought year, when would be the best time to trim them?
view the full question and answer

Problems with hibiscus tree in Wichita Falls, TX
November 10, 2008 - My Hibiscus trees have black spots on the leaves. What might this be and what is the remedy?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center