While typically we try to feature plants found on the Domain as our Plant of the Day, today we are highlighting one we have yet, but that may be out there. The smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus), is a large shrub or small tree with distinct bark in overlapping flakes and even more distinct flowers, whose filamentous hairs lend the tree a smoky appearance. The tree flowers in the spring, but can be picked out in the fall by its bright colors that last for two to three weeks; the tree takes on and maintains a rich orange-red color throughout this time. Other important features for identifying the smoke tree are its large, simple, oval leaves, arranged alternatelyalong the stem. Though it is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant, the smoke tree has a small native range, and here in Sewanee we are right on the edge of it. The images you see in this post depict a population nearby in Belvidere, in the sort of bottomland limestone outcrop habitat the tree is closely associated with. While we have little habitat on the Domain exactly like what is near Belvidere, one could reasonably expect to see a smoke tree somewhere in the lower reaches of Lost Cove where limestone outcrops and glades are a major habitat type.
Smoke tree: Is it out there?