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
  • Pollution 
  • Drought
  • 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

Additional Facts: 

  • 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





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