Content Detail

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 cousin, Eurasian smoke tree, and also offers excellent fall color.

  • Family (English) Cashew, Sumac
  • Family (botanic) Anacardaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks, Under utility lines
  • Tree or plant type Tree, Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Compact tree (10-15 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet), Medium tree (25-40 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Occasional drought
  • Season of interest midsummer, late summer, early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Irregular, Oval, Upright
  • Growth rate Slow

Size and Form:

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

Native geographic location and habitat:

Native to a few states in the southern United States, it is 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 are oval or slightly elongated and 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.

Plant care:

Avoid planting American smoke tree in low-lying areas where soil remains wet. It is fairly drought tolerant once established and tolerant of alkaline sites. It transplants easily due to a shallow, fibrous root system.

Disease, pests, and problems: 

There are no common problems associated with this plant.

These plants may be difficult to find in nurseries.

Cotton Candy™ American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus ‘Northstar’):

This cultivar is hardy to zone 3. It has large clusters of pink ‘smoke’ and good red and orange fall color. It is 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. This hybrid can be a small tree or large shrub reaching 15 to 20 feet high.


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