Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Cotinus obovatus

American smoke tree, Texas smoke tree, Wild smoke tree, Smoke tree, Smokebush, Chittamwood

Anacardiaceae (Sumac Family)

Cotinus obovatus (American smoke tree)
Bransford, W.D. and Dolphia
American smoketree is an upright, small tree or multi-trunked shrub, growing 15-30 ft. tall. Has a short trunk, open crown of spreading branches, resinous sap with a strong odor, and deep orange-yellow heartwood. Six to ten inch flower panicles develop long, red or purple, hairlike petioles that, in the crowded flower clusters, create a smoky appearance. (The flower itself is small and not showy.) Berries occur infrequently on pinkish stems; these also have a smoke-like look. Spring leaves are silky pink, becoming bluish to dark green. Fall leaves are magnificently colorful. A gnarled limb structure and the dark, flaking bark are other attributes. The masses of smoke-like fruit clusters with hairy stalks of sterile flowers give the species its common name.

Native to rocky, usually mountain soils from Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Alabama west to Oklahoma, with disjunct populations in a few counties of central Texas, Cotinus obovatus is an outstanding small, ornamental tree. Its bark is decorative, its leaves are soothing blue-green in spring and summer and flaming oranges and reds in fall, and its flowers form ethereal clouds of pink and purple in spring. The floral panicles wave in the breeze, giving the illusion of clouds of smoke. It is drought-tolerant, disease-resistant, well-adapted to the stony soils of its native habitat, and should not be over-watered or over-fertilized.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Elliptic , Obovate , Ovate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous , Puberulent
Leaf Margin: Entire
Leaf Apex: Obtuse
Leaf Base: Cuneate , Rounded
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Panicle
Size Notes: 15-30 ft, normally no more than 15 ft
Leaf: Blue-green above, pale below.
Flower: Flowers in 12-inch panicles
Fruit: Purple to brown, 1/8 inch long.
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Pink , Yellow , Purple
Bloom Time: Apr , May
Bloom Notes: Flowers change from yellow to pink or purple as they age.


USA: AL , AR , GA , KY , MO , OK , TN , TX
Native Distribution: Ozark Mts. of AR & adjacent MO & OK; also KY & TN, s. to AL & GA; Edwards Plateau of TX
Native Habitat: Hillsides; limestone outcrops; rocky woods

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2)
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rocky, well-drained, limestone soils, whether sand, loam, or clay.
Conditions Comments: Once it is established within its range, it thrives on tough conditions and neglect and should not be over-watered. Rich soil and too much water may create a weak plant. It likes rocky north- or east-facing slopes, or plant on protected side of Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei).


Use Ornamental: A small tree valued for its trunk and branches, cloud-like spring blooms, and standout fall foliage.
Use Wildlife: Browsed by wildlife.
Use Other: The wood was once used for making a yellow dye and for fence posts and tool handles
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Deer Resistant: Moderate

Last Update: 2015-11-12