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Woody > Cotinus > Cotinus obovatus > Cotinus obovatus

Cotinus obovatus

American Smoketree, Chittamwood

Origin:  Southern United States of America.
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This tree is notable for its beautiful autumn foliage as its colours change through an outstanding yellow, red, orange and sometimes purple range. This tree is worthy of being planted in urban areas, but is commonly seen in parking lot planters. Continus obovatus is typically found in rocky soils, usually mountain type soils from Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Alabama to western Oklahoma.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (deciduous)
USDA Hardiness Zone
5a - 8a
Canadian Hardiness Zone
RHS Hardiness Zone
H7 - H4
Temperature (°C)
-29 - (-12)
Temperature (°F)
-20- 15
6 - 9 m
4 - 8 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
Cotinus obovatus has multiple trunks that are dark orange or yellow in colour. Flowering occurs during springtime, which gives off a smokey-looking effect. When the leaves are young, they have a pinkish or bronze colour, and when they mature, they turn dark green or blue. In autumn, the leaves transform into beautiful shades of yellow, red, orange, and sometimes purple.
Cotinus obovatus is used in urban environments, and in particular parking lot medians. It can be grown in an above-ground planters since it small stature is suited to this application.
Cotinus obovatus trees can grow in part shade as well as full sun. It has a high drought tolerance but poor soil salt tolerance. It can tolerate acidic and alkaline soil conditions.
Cotinus obovatus has a short trunk with an open crown, and is oval shaped.
ID Characteristic
As the flower panicles blow around in the wind, they look like a cloud of smoke hovering about the tree.
Verticillium wilt can kill the tree, but it is not very common.
Native to rocky soil, usually mountain soils from Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Alabama to western Oklahoma. It also thrives in limestone-enriched soils, and hillsides.
Bark/Stem Description
Cotinus obovatus has bark that is orange or brown in colour, that is very thin and easy exfoliates. The bark on older trees flakes off at the base of the trunk, showing dark grey to black colours.
Leaf Description
Cotinus obovatus has alternate simple leaves, with an elliptic (oval) obovate shape, an entire margin, and a pinnate vein pattern. Their size may vary between 5 - 20 cm long.
Flower Description
Cotinus obovatus has light pink or white flowers that cluster in 30 cm panicles. In the springtime, fairly spaced-out fuzzy panicles begin to grow, giving it a smoky appearance.
Fruit Description
The fruit is oval, less than 1 cm in size, and starts as a pinkish or purple colour, then turns brown as the season progresses.
Colour Description
In early spring, the leaves have a blue - dark green colour however towards autumn the foliage changes l colours such to orange, purple, red and yellow. The bark is orange in colour but as the tree ages, it becomes twisted up and turns into a darker colour. The flowers bloom in early spring (April/May) as a yellow colour but ripen to pink.
Texture Description
The bark is fine, a characteristic that does not change throughout the season. However, it does slightly start to exfoliate as the bark becomes twisted with age.
Notable Specimens
The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
Few seeds are formed. Seeds that are sown immediately after collection may take two springs to germinate. Scarification and stratification speed up germination. Smoketrees are also propagated from root or stem cuttings or layering.
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
Dye was harvested from the wood to colour tool handles.
Beck, A., Renwald, K. 2001. Trees & Shrub Gardening for Ontario. Edmonton: Lone Pine Publishing. Johnson, H. 2010. The World of Trees. London, United Kingdom: Octopus Publishing Group