Cotinus obovatus

American Smoketree

This has historically been a very difficult seed to secure.

  • Cotinus obovatus

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Min. hardiness zone:
Item ID:

Growing Info

Scarification: Soak in hot tap water, let stand in water for 12 hours
Stratification: cold stratify for 150 days
Germination: sow seed 1/8" deep , tamp the soil, keep moist, mulch the seed bed, , can be sown outdoors in the fall for spring germination

Other: if boiling water treatment does not allow seed to imbibe, sulfuric acid treatment is required 

Introducing the Cotinus obovatus American Smoketree:
The Cotinus obovatus, also known as the American Smoketree, is a small, deciduous tree or large shrub native to the southeastern region of the United States. It typically grows to a height of 20-30 feet and can be found in limestone glades, Rocky limestone bluffs, and bald knobs along the White River in southeast Missouri.

What sets the American Smoketree apart is its unique flower clusters, which bloom in June. While the flowers themselves are tiny and insignificant, it is the billowy hairs attached to the spent flower clusters that give the tree its name. These hairs turn a smoky pink to purplish pink in the summer, creating fluffy, hazy, smoke-like puffs that cover the tree.

The foliage of the American Smoketree is bluish green and obovate in shape. In the fall, the leaves display a variety of colors, including yellow, red, orange, and reddish purple, producing some of the best fall color among native American trees and shrubs. This tree or large shrub is known for its intense fall color, making it a standout choice for any landscape.

The American Smoketree thrives in most soil types and prefers a well-drained soil in a sunny position. While it can tolerate light shade, it does best in soil that is not too rich. It is hardy to about -15°C, but die-back at the tips of shoots can occur during the winter.

Aside from its stunning aesthetic appeal, the American Smoketree also has other remarkable qualities. The young leaves emit an aromatic fragrance when bruised, adding a pleasant scent to your outdoor space. However, it is important to note that this species is in danger of extinction in the wild due to its historical use in making dye, particularly during the American Civil War.

Whether planted individually or grouped together, the American Smoketree is an excellent choice for adding visual interest to any shrub border. Its long-lasting summer "smoke" display makes it a striking accent plant.

Native to rocky mountain soils from Kentucky, Tennessee, and northern Alabama west to Oklahoma, the Cotinus obovatus is an outstanding small, ornamental tree. Its decorative bark, soothing blue-green leaves, and ethereal clouds of pink and purple flowers in spring make it highly sought after and cultivated in botanical gardens worldwide.

Despite its rarity in the wild, the American Smoketree is easy to grow and can tolerate rocky alkaline soils and long droughts. Young plants in sunny locations can grow rapidly, up to two feet per year.

Please note that the American Smoketree should not be confused with the non-native Common Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria), which is more commonly found in landscapes. The American Smoketree's scarcity in both wild and cultivated settings adds to its allure and desirability as a unique addition to your outdoor space.

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