Cool Plant: April 1, 2010

Fringe Tree
Chionanthus spp.
Chinese Fringe Tree Native Fringe Tree

Species Native Range: Eastern U.S. & China
Hardiness: USDA Zones (4)5-9
Mature Size: 12-20 feet tall & 10-15 feet wide
Exposure: Full sun to light shade
Soil: Rich, moist but well-drained
Drought Tolerance: Excellent
Ease of Culture: Easy

Fringe tree, aka grancy graybeard is a lovely, small, spring-blooming tree with "whiskers" of crisp-white, lightly fragrant flowers. Trees are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female trees. Both sexes bloom. Flower clusters on female trees are somewhat shorter than those on the male trees. In my opinion, the male trees have showier flower clusters. The native fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) blooms in early April and the Chinese species (Chionanthus retusus) usually blooms 2-3 weeks later. Other differences exist. The native fringe tree tends to be multi-trunked with an open shrub-like habit. The Chinese species is more upright and tree-form. The native species is a bit more cold-tolerant and probably hardy to zone 4. The Chinese species can suffer freeze damage if late frosts occur.

In the late summer to early fall, female trees that were pollinated by a male produce a dark blue fruit (drupe). Fringe trees are related to olives and the fruit is edible but not very tasty. I prefer to leave it for wildlife.

Native Fringe Tree Fruit Fringe Tree Bonsai

Plant fringe trees in full sun to light shade. Flowering and fruit production are better in full sun. The soil should be rich, high in organic matter, moist but well-drained. Prune only as needed after flowering. Fertilize in the spring as new growth appears with a slow-release organic fertilizer.

Good companion plants for fringe trees include pansies, redbud trees, spring bulbs, creeping phlox and other plants in bloom in early April. I like to plant fringe trees at the edge of a woodland garden where they will receive more sunlight with azaleas planted behind them in partial shade. This makes for a lovely spring garden.


The native and Chinese fringe trees may be a bit more difficult to locate. I have seen them offered previously at these local nurseries:

Woody's Nursery: Duluth
Buck Jones Nursery: Woodstock & Grayson

Or by mail order:

Digging Dog Nursery
Forest Farm Nursery

If you have comments or questions about this article or want to submit a suggestion for a future article, please email me.

Unless noted otherwise, Images & Drawings Copyrighted © 2010 by Theresa Schrum - All rights reserved