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Bransford, W.D. and Dolphia
Cotinus obovatus Raf.
American smoke tree, Smoke tree, Texas smoke tree, Chittamwood
Synonyms: Cotinus americanus
USDA Symbol: COOB2
USDA Native Status: Native to U.S.
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.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: Pink , Yellow , Purple
Bloom Time: Apr , May
Bloom Notes: Flowers change from yellow to pink or purple as they age.
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 USDA Native Status: L48(N)
Growing ConditionsWater 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).
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:
Root Cuttings , Seeds , Semi-hardwood Cuttings , Softwood Cuttings Description:
Few seeds are formed. Those sown immediately after collection may take two springs to germinate. Scarification and stratification hasten germination. Smoke-trees are also propagated from root or stem
cuttings or layering. Semi-hardwood or softwood cuttings should be taken in late spring after flowering. Seed Collection:
To collect seeds before wind dispersion, clip the entire
from the tree
in late April. Collect enough to compensate for a high percentage of infertile seed. Air-dry before storing or planting. When dried, fuzzy panicle
are easily detached. Seed Treatment:
Scarification in a 20-40 minute concentrated sulfuric acid treatment or with warm, moist stratification for 150 days. Follow with 60-80 days of stratification at 38-41 degrees. Commercially Avail:
Do not over-water once its established.
Mr. Smarty Plants says
Drought-Tolerant Trees for South-Central Texas
February 09, 2010
I would like to replace two Golden Rain Trees with native ornamentals. They should be highly drought tolerant and should not exceed 25 feet in height. They will need to be tough since they will get ...
view the full question and answer
Native alternative for Japanese Red Maple in Oklahoma
October 12, 2009
Mr. Smarty Plants, I am looking for a native alternative to a Japanese Red Maple. I would like a small tree that I can put in my front garden that will not pose a security risk my being overgrown and ...
view the full question and answer
From the National Suppliers Directory
According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:
American Native Nursery
- Quakertown, PAHill Country Natives
- Leander, TX
Recommended Species Lists
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View Recommended Species page
Record Modified: 2010-02-07
Research By: NPC, GDG