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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.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


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


  • Occasional drought,
  • Alkaline soil

Seasons of Interest:

  • midsummer,
  • 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.

Cultivars and their differences

These cultivars may be difficult to find in nurseries.

Cotton Candy™ American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus 'Northstar'):  Hardy to zone 3.  Large clusters of pink 'smoke' and good red and orange fall color.  Drought tolerant.

Grace smoketree (Cotinus 'Grace'): A hybrid of Cotinus obovatus and Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak'. Large pink flower panicles with  4 to 6 inch long blue-green leaves. Can be a small tree or large shrub reaching 15 to 20 feet high.




Location of Cotinus obovatus (American smoke tree) at the Arboretum