Native to North America, Cotinus obovatus prefers rocky, usually mountainous soils. It grows in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Oklahoma, with disjunct populations in central Texas. It prefers to grow at the edge of the forest and its buds are alternate so that it can get more sunlight. It does not prefer extremely wet climates.
Origin, history, and uses:
The American smoketree was discovered in Oklahoma in 1819. It was named Cotinus obovatus in 1840 and is the only species of the genus “Cotinus” in the Western hemisphere. However, it is a close relative to Cotinus coggygria, another smoketree, which grows along the Great Wall of China.
The American smoketree almost went extinct during the Civil War when it was harvested for to make orange and yellow dyes. Their wood was also strong enough to be used in fence posts. Two American smoketrees stand at the base of Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. American smoketrees were introduced into cultivation in 1880. They are not on any conservation list in 2019, but are no longer harvested for use.
Green and white flowers bloom at the end of May and in June. In August, the flowers drop if they are infertile, or turn into seeds if they are fertile. The seeds are then eaten by birds or eaten by wildlife on the ground, and are dispersed throughout. In September, the leaves turn dark red or burgundy. Cotinus is decidouos, the leaves drop at the end of fall. Budding begins at the beginning of April, and leaves begin to form at the end of April.