Chittamwood (Cotinus obovatus)

C. americanus. Rhus cotinoides.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Cotinus obovatus

An orange or yellow dye is obtained from the wood[46, 61, 82, 169]. This was extensvely used in America at the time of the Civil War, but is little used commercially at present[274].

Wood – light, soft, rather coarse grained, very durable in the soil[82, 149, 229]. It weighs about 40lb per cubic foot[235]. Trees are too small and rare for commercial exploitation, but the wood is used locally for fence posts[82, 149, 229].

  • Medicinal Use

    None known

  • Edible Use

    None known

  • Cautionary Notes

    Skin contact with this plant can cause dermatitis in sensitive people[200]. Though related to several poisonous species, this species is definitely not poisonous[65].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[78, 113, 200]. It should germinate in the spring. Slightly immature or ‘green’ seed, harvested when it has fully developed but before it dries on the plant, gives the best results[113]. Warm stratify stored seed for 2 – 3 months at 15¡c, then cold stratify for 2 – 3 months[164]. Germination can be very slow, often taking 12 months or more at 15¡c[164]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the cold frame for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. The seed has a long viability and should store for several years[113]. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame[113]. Trench layering in spring[200].
Tolerates most soils[202]. Prefers a well-drained soil in a sunny position[200], doing better in a soil that is not very rich[11]. Tolerates light shade[188]. Plants are hardy to about -15¡c[202], though die-back often occurs at the tips of shoots during the winter[202]. Plants are slow to establish but are then quite fast growing when young though they slow down with age[202]. Plants respond well to coppicing[229]. Hybridizes with C. coggygria[182]. A very ornamental plant[1]. The young leaves have an aromatic fragrance when bruised[245]. This species is in danger of extinction in the wild due to its being cut down for use in making a dye, this occurred especially during the N. American civil war[Notes on a board at Kew]. Plants flower on wood that is at least 3 years old[202]. Any pruning is best done in the spring[202]. Seed production is normally poor because many of the flower clusters are sterile[229]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
South-eastern N. America – Tennessee to Alabama and Texas.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.