The American smoketree, also known as Chittamwood, is actually Cotinus obovatus.  American smoketree should not be confused with the European smoketree, Cotinus coggygria, whose numerous, eye-catching cultivars are so popular int the nursery trade and in suburban gardens. The American smoketree however, is in some ways, more subtly attractive. It is rare in landscapes and even rarer in the wild.

American smoketree gets its name from the clusters of tiny blossoms which, at a distance, look like puffs of smoke. The small flowers are greenish-white, but the pink or purple stems also add color. The effect is subdued but elegant, and male trees usually put on the showier display. But American smoketree is more noted for its beautiful foliage. The five to six inch long leaves are a pretty pinkish-bronze in spring, maturing to a handsome dark blue-green in summer, and finally in autumn, a color explosion of yellow, red, orange, or purple. The display is dramatic and all the better since it goes on for weeks.

Typically American smoketree grows 20 to 30 feet tall,   a convenient size for urban gardens, courtyards and under power lines. It's rounded form can be either single-stemmed or multi-trunked. And the female trees will produce small seeds that are eagerly consumed by birds.

Due to it's beauty and rarity, the American smoketree is a connoisseur tree of the first order, and yet it's easy to grow. It is tough enough to tolerate rocky alkaline soils, long droughts and poor soils, but planted in optimum conditions, i.e. deep fertile soil, well drained and moist in full sun, it will grow rapidly, up to two feet a year. 

American smoketree will grow across the southern half of the US and the temperate coastal areas. It will thrive across the UK, New Zealand and much of Australia.

As usual, this rare and special tree will not be found in the popular landscape nurseries but more likely in a connoisseur, mail-order, plant nursery.


American smoketree

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