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Cotinus obovatus

Previously known as:

  • Cotinus americanus
  • Cotinus cotinoides
  • Rhus cotinoides
Phonetic Spelling
ko-TYE-nus ob-oh-VAY-tus
Description

American smoke tree is native to the southern United States, growing in the rocky mountain soils from Kentucky, Tennessee, northern Alabama westward to Oklahoma.  Growth can also be found in central Texas. Its native habitat includes limestone glades and rocky limestone bluffs on north or east facing slopes.   It is a medium-maintenance small tree or upright shrub in the Anacardiaceae family.  It prefers a well-drained infertile loam soil in the full sun but does tolerate a wide range of soils including clay and shallow rocky soil. The sap from American Smoketree has a strong odor.  

The name smoke tree comes not from the  6'-10" flower clusters (green-yellow, insignificant, dioecious) which bloom in the summer, but from the airy smoky pink to pink-purple hairs on the spent flower clusters that give the tree a  hazy, smoke-like puffy appearance.  The summer "smoke" display makes this a striking accent plant. It also produces some of the best fall color of the native American trees and shrubs.  It looks great massed or planted at the back of a shrub border.  It does use a fair amount of water, especially in dry conditions. This plant is resistant to damage by deer.

The wood from this plant were used as fence posts, tools handles and for making yellow dye.  

Seasons of Interest:

    Bloom: Summer  Foliage: Fall

Notes: Outstanding fall foliage

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: No serious insect or disease problems. Sometimes leaf spots, rust and wilt can cause issues on stressed trees.  Overwatering and over fertilizing can be detrimental.  

Avoid planting in low-lying areas where soil conditions can remain wet.  

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Cotton Candy'
    Hardy to zone 3. Pink smoke. Red and orange fall color.
  • 'Grace'
    Tall shrub purple leaves good red fall color
  • 'Red Leaf'
    Brilliant red fall color
'Cotton Candy', 'Grace', 'Red Leaf'
Tags:
#deciduous#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#interesting bark#specimen#wildlife plants#native tree#red leaves#native shrub#colorful leaves#colorful#fall interest#accent plant#mass planting#playground#year-round interest#disease resistant#airy#deer resistant#blue-green leaves#children's garden#long bloom time#border planting#cold tolerant#billowy#urban conditions tolerant#small group plantings#rocky soils tolerant#clay soils tolerant#shrub borders
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Cotton Candy'
    Hardy to zone 3. Pink smoke. Red and orange fall color.
  • 'Grace'
    Tall shrub purple leaves good red fall color
  • 'Red Leaf'
    Brilliant red fall color
'Cotton Candy', 'Grace', 'Red Leaf'
Tags:
#deciduous#heat tolerant#drought tolerant#interesting bark#specimen#wildlife plants#native tree#red leaves#native shrub#colorful leaves#colorful#fall interest#accent plant#mass planting#playground#year-round interest#disease resistant#airy#deer resistant#blue-green leaves#children's garden#long bloom time#border planting#cold tolerant#billowy#urban conditions tolerant#small group plantings#rocky soils tolerant#clay soils tolerant#shrub borders
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Cotinus
    Species:
    obovatus
    Family:
    Anacardiaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southern United States
    Distribution:
    KY, AL, TN, TX, OK
    Wildlife Value:
    Cover plant for wildlife, including birds. Butterflies are attracted.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Textural
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    It has minimal insect and disease problems.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 20 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 20 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 11 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Perennial
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Oval
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Very Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    24-60 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Pink
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Few fruits are produced pale brown with 1 seed, dry oblong, 5 mm long. Fruit Season of interest: Summer
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Insignificant
    Panicle
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Long-lasting
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    Flowers are dioecious insignificant, however, hairs attached make for a good show especially on male plants. The 6-10" panicles sport long, red or purple hair-like petioles that create a smoky appearance. Young flowers can be yellow, turning to pink or purple as they age.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Blue
    Green
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Obovate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Description:
    Blue-green leaves are simple and obovate to elliptical, wedge-shaped (cuneate) at the base, slight notch at the apex, and its widest point is above the middle. This is where the species name obovatus comes from. Fantastic fall color.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Light Brown
    Light Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Ridges
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Irregular
    Bark Description:
    Furrowed and ridged gray-brown bark that has flaky scaly plates as it ages.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Multi-trunked, with gnarled limbs.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Patio
    Recreational Play Area
    Slope/Bank
    Small Space
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Children's Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Native Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Barrier
    Mass Planting
    Screen/Privacy
    Small groups
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Deer
    Drought
    Heat
    Poor Soil