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SMOKETREE

Cotinus obovatus and Cotinus coggygria

Cotinus obovatus (synonyms Cotinus americanus and, previously, Rhus cotinoides) and Cotinus coggygria of the family Anacardiaceae, the sumac/cashew family

Because of similarities in plant size and wood appearance, there can sometimes be confusion between this wood and similar looking woods buckthorn and chittamwood.

Another species, Cotinus coggygria (syn. Rhus cotinus), is also called smoketree, but more commonly European or Eurasian smoketree, which is a small shrub up to a small tree, no more than 20 feet high and is native to a large area from southern Europe, east across central Asia and the Himalayas to northern China, and as far as I know is NOT what American craftspeople would ever have as smoketree and NOT what is represented here, although it IS grown in the USA as an ornamental.

Also known as American smoketree, chittamwood (although this name more commonly is used for Sideroxylon lanuginosum), mist tree, smokebush, Venetian sumac, wild smoketree, yellowwood, this is a large ornamental shrub, sometimes considered a very small tree, generally no more than 20 feet tall, although some reports say it can go to 45 feet.

Typically has multiple trunks but can be grown with a single trunk (in which case some reports say it can reach 45 feet); in either case, it is not suitable for lumber production but the bole can be thick enough for canes and fence posts, for which it is used (in areas where it grows) because of its durability in that application (much like osage orange which the wood somewhat resembles). The wood is moderately light (about 40lb per cubic foot) and soft and somewhat coarse grained. Heartwood color varies from bright yellow to orange, darkening somewhat with age.

Native to North America, grows in sparse regions throughout the USA except the Northern central portion and the Southernmost regions of Florida, Texas, and California.

An orange/yellow dye can be obtained from the wood and was this was used so extensively in America at the time of the Civil War that the plant became what would now be considered an endangered species, but the dye is not much used commercially now and the plant has become more widespread.

WEB QUOTE: The root burl from the American Smoketree, part of the cashew family, was once used for making a yellow dye. The figured wood is all from the root. This wood, truly one of the rarest in the world and unknown outside of the US, grows in and around limestone formations and often must be chiseled or blasted out of the rock that surrounds it.

my samples:
NOTE: these pics were all taken in very bright incandescent lighting ("soft white" at 2700K)
colors will vary under other lighting conditions


sample plank sold to me as smoketree / Cotinus obovatus --- The left side is freshly sanded and the right side has a slight patina but even so the color on the right side is shown a bit too dark


end grain and end grain closeup of the plank directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of American smoketree / Cotinus obovatus --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of American smoketree / Cotinus obovatus --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of American smoketree / Cotinus obovatus --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


both sides of a sample plank of common smoketree / Cotinus coggygria --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


The Wood Book pics


flat cut, quartersawn, end grain
smoketree (Cotinus americanus) from The Wood Book --- both levels of enlargement are available for all 3 views; I would hazard a guess that the original color of the wood was much more yellow and has oxidized over time to the brown shown here.

web pics:


two views of a 4" wide plank moistened with mineral oil (you can just see a tiny corner in the upper right of the 2nd pic where the wood is dry. The owner stated that the color is closer to the first pic.


plank listed as chittum / smoketree / Cotinus obovatus


plank listed as smoketree / chittum / Cotinus obovatus


plank listed as smoketree / Cotinus coggygria (see discussion at the top of the page about this species)


dowel listed as smoketree


plank listed as chittum burl / smoketree / Cotinus obovatus


turning block listed as chittum burl / smoketree / Cotinus obovatus


pen listed as smoketree burl and with what I find to be a completely believable color although it undoubtedly has a finish that has enhanced the raw wood color.


pen listed as chittum burl / Cotinus obovatus


pens listed as smoketree / chittum, so I have no idea whether they are smoketree or chittamwood