TREES & plants

American smoke tree

Fall color of American smoke tree.

American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus; syn. Cotinus americanus) is a native of North America, but is little used in home landscapes.  This small to medium tree produces the same "smoke" (hairy fruit stalks) as its Eurasian cousin, smoke bush and also offers excellent fall color.

Botanical name: 
Cotinus obovatus
All Common Names: 
American smoke tree, American smoketree, Chittamwood
Family (English): 
Cashew, Sumac
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub, 
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Patio/sidewalk, 
  • Specimen, 
  • Utility
Size Range: 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet), 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet), 
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet), 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular, 
  • Oval, 
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
More Information: 

Size and Form

This tree is 20 to 30 feet high and 10 to 20 feet wide.

Tree & Plant Care

Avoid planting in low-lying areas where soil remains wet.  Fairly drought tolerant.
Tolerant of alkaline sites.
Transplants easily due to a shallow, fibrous root system.

Disease, pests, and problems

No  common problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to a few states in the Southern United States.
Commonly found in dry, alkaline sites.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is gray brown in color and breaks into scaly plates with age.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves; oval or slightly elongated, 2 to 5 inches long.
Summer color is blue-green on the species; fall color may be varying shades of yellow, orange, red and purple.
Fall color is reddish-purple on the species.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

The actual flowers are tiny and not showy.  The structure that holds the flowers is covered with hairs and this is the  'smoke' for which the tree is named.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

The true fruit are small and dry.  Again, the structure that holds the fruit is the source of the 'smoke' of this plant.



Cotinus obovatus or American smoke tree