June 2023 - American Smoketree
Common Name: American Smoketree, Smokebush, Chittamwood
Botanical Name: Cotinus obovatus
Native Range: Found naturally growing in limestone-based soils in Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas. USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8.
Height: Typically grows to 20-30 feet.
Spread: Typically grows to a spread of 20 feet.
Form: A small deciduous tree with a rounded growing habit.
Growth Rate: Moderate growth rate.
Sun: Does best in full sun.
Soil: Prefers well drained soil but can tolerate less favorable conditions.
Leaf Description: Simple alternate leaves range from oval to slightly egg-shaped and are 2-5 inches long. The summer color is blue-green. Fall color ranges from yellow to orange to reddish purple depending on the species.
Fall Color: Ornamental in fall. The color varies from yellow, red, or orange, to reddish depending on the cultivar.
Flower Description: The flowers are inconspicuous and open in May, but the structure that holds the flowers is hairy and results in the “smoke” for which the tree is named. The 6-10” (panicles) persist throughout summer while the foliage is more spectacular in the fall.
Fruit: The Smoketree fruit is a ¼” drupe. The seeds are a food source for native finches.
Bark Description: The bark is grayish-brown in color and is smooth when the tree is young. Bark becomes scale-like with plates as the tree ages.
Wildlife Benefit: Provides shelter and nesting for many varieties of birds and pollinators.
- Compacted soil
- Limestone soils
- High Ph and Low Ph
- Extreme heat and extreme cold
Possible Disease and Insect Problems: Minimal
Uses: Can be used as a specimen tree or as a screen in the landscape
- This plant shows great deer resistance.
- The wood was used as fence posts and made into tool handles.
- During the Civil War, smoketree wood was used extensively in making yellow and orange dyes to the point that the tree was almost extinct.
- Overwatering or over-fertilizing can result in serious damage to the tree.
- The tree is related to the sumac.
- The leaves are fragrant when crushed.
- Two American Smoketrees grow at the base of the tomb of Abraham Lincoln.
- The tree was discovered in Oklahoma in 1819
Dirr, M. A.; Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. 2019