Smoke and Mimosa trees

What is that crazy looking plant, you may be asking? This is a smoke tree, sometimes confused with the smoke bush. The American smoke tree (Continus obovatus) is a small tree that is native to Tennessee, extends westward to Texas, and reaches a height of about 35 – 40 feet at maturity.

Its common name is derived from the grey‐brown flowers that resemble puffs of smoke rising above the leaf. The stalks can have a bright pink to purple color, resulting in a spectacular color scheme. The greenish oval leaf turns a brilliant color in the fall, with shades of yellow, orange, purple, and red.

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Photo from wikimedia.org by Charles T. Bryson, USDA ARS

Some may showcase all of these colors at one time. Smoke trees produce a small berry that is quickly devoured by birds and squirrels.

Though not commonly found in the wild, the American smoke tree’s native habitat is rocky uplands with somewhat alkaline soils. However, this plant has seen wide use as an ornamental where it is well suited for smaller planting sites.

Requiring plenty of sunlight to grow well and flower profusely, this tree is susceptible to a deadly disease known as verticillium wilt, especially where it is planted in poorly drained soils or when it is overwatered.

Smoke bushes (Cotinus coggyria), on the other hand, belong to the sumac family and are native to southern Europe and parts of Eurasia. The smoke bush is normally multi‐stemmed and toes the line between being a tree and a shrub. It can be fast‐growing, requiring regular pruning. The common variety has more resistance to diseases than the native tree. A number of cultivars have been developed, some with pinkish to purple foliage. A very popular cultivar is known as the Royal Purple.

Mimosa tree

You can’t help but notice the beautiful mimosa trees that are now in bloom throughout Frederick County. The mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) or silk tree is native to the Middle East and eastern Asia and was brought to this country during the 1700s as an ornamental.

Mimosas are fast-growing, short-lived trees that attain a height of about 40 feet tall at maturity.

The tree has a single stem and smooth bark that has a dark greenish gray color. The leaves of the mimosa look like ferns and it has very showy and persistent pinkish flowers with a sweet fragrant aroma. No wonder it was prized as an ornamental.

Despite these attributes this tree is considered to be an invasive exotic since it grows most anywhere, is a very prolific seeder, and readily sprouts when cut.

In some areas dense groves of mimosas develop which can prevent native vegetation from becoming established. There is a lot of debate whether this tree is good or bad.

Mimosa trees are very susceptible to a terminal disease known as mimosa vascular wilt. Despite the mortality, the aggressive seeding nature of this tree allows it to thrive in our region.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 6/28/2015