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Fascinating Facts and Info about the Ornamental Fringetree

Smita Pandit Apr 29, 2019
The fringetree, also called fringe tree, is often used in landscaping due to the showy, fragrant, white flowers that cover the tree during the bloom season. Read some interesting facts about the fringetree given ahead.
"Fringe tree is an apt moniker for this delightful small flowering tree, whose white blossoms do resemble a fanciful white fringe suspended in the spring sunlight."
―Rick Darke, The American Woodland Garden
If you have a fringetree in your garden, then you will certainly enjoy spending time in your garden during late spring, when this tree produces delicate, snow-white flowers. During the bloom season, clusters of drooping flowers appear at the end of the branches, and cover the entire tree.
To add to that, the flowers give off a mild, sweet fragrance. Truly a gardener's delight, this deciduous shrub or tree is easy to care for.
It must be noted that this tree is dioecious, which means that the male and female reproductive parts are on separate plants. In case of fringetrees, the male trees produce showy flowers with longer petals, which is why the male trees look prettier during the flowering season.
On the other hand, after being pollinated by bees, the female tree produces clusters of berries that look similar to olives. These berries are heavier than the ones that appear on male fringetrees. By late summer, the oval-shaped drupes or berries on female trees ripen and turn blue.
Though flowers almost cover the entire tree, making it difficult to see the foliage, birds are attracted to the blue berries, and are able to find the fruits easily. So, for the female tree to produce berries, you will also need a male fringetree.

Facts about Fringetrees

Plant type: Multi-stemmed deciduous shrub or tree
Family: Oleaceace (Olive family)
Order: Lamiales
Scientific Name: Chionanthus virginicus
Also called: Old man's beard, Grancy graybeard
Native to: North America, South Carolina, and the southeastern United States
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3A through 9B
Height: Up to 20 feet (Up to 35 feet in the wild)
Growth Rate: Slow to
Light Requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Watering: Medium watering; Needs less water once established
Soil: Clay, sand, or loam; acidic; Occasionally wet
Soil Type: Slightly acidic; Well-drained
Flowers: Clusters of showy, snow-white flowers
Flowering Season: Spring
Colors: White
Foliage Color: Green
Propagation: Seeds or cuttings; Difficult to propagate through cuttings
Companion Plants: Pansies, redbud trees, spring bulbs, creeping phlox
Pests: Scales, spider mites, borers, white-tailed deer
Other Characteristics: Attracts birds such as blue jays, wild turkeys, cardinals, and mockingbirds
The white fringetrees tree were grown at Monticello, the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.
The white fringetrees were one of the many trees that were grown at Monticello, the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.
Fringe trees exhibit allelopathy, when grown around certain trees of the walnut family. The term 'allelopathy' refers to the inhibition of growth in one plant species due to the production of certain chemicals by another plant. Due to this reason, it is best not to plant fringetrees around walnut (Juglans) or hickories (Carya).
Clusters of showy, white fringe-like blooms of the fringetree droop from the end of the branches, appearing like the white beard of an old man. This is the reason why this tree is called old man's beard or grancy gray beard. Individual flowers have four petals, which are long and narrow.
It must be noted that it shares the common name old man's beard with Clematis vitalba, a deciduous plant that belongs to the Ranunculaceae family.

The spear-shaped leaves of American fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) are opposite or subopposite. They are ovate to elliptical in shape, and measure 4-8 inches in length. They are pinnately veined in shape.
It must be noted that the tree produces flowers within 3 to 5 years after planting. The flowering season is from May through June. Berries that appear on the female tree ripen during the months of September and October.
This species is dioecious or polygamo-dioecious. Dioecious means that male flowers and female flowers are on separate plants, whereas polygamo-dioecious refers to the presence of some male flowers on female plants, and some female flowers on male plants.
The fruit is borne by the female plant. It is oval-shaped, and measures ¾ inch in length. On maturity, the fruit appears dark blue to nearly black in color. Within the pulp lies a large, stone seed.

During fall, the leaves of the tree turn yellow. The yellow foliage is in contrast with the bluish-black berries on the female trees.
The bark of a fringetree has furrows of dark brown and light gray. The bark was used by the Native Americans due to its medicinal properties.

Information about the Chinese Fringetree

Another species under the Chionanthus genus, the Chinese fringetree's scientific name is Chionanthus retusus. It is native to China, Japan, and Korea. The growing conditions of the Chinese and the American fringetrees are quite similar. However, there are some differences. These include:
✦ The American fringetree is hardy to USDA zones 3A through 9B, whereas the USDA hardiness zone for the Chinese fringetree is 5B through 9B.

✦ While Chionanthus virginicus often takes on a multi-stemmed habit, its Asian counterpart mostly grows into a tree. It can be trained into a single-stemmed tree. The single trunk is cut to encourage branching.
✦ The American fringetree blooms before the foliage appears. On the other hand, the new stems and leaves of the Chinese fringetree first appear in the spring, and the tree is in full bloom by late spring.
So, the flowers appear on the last season's growth in case of Chionanthus virginicus, whereas flowers appear on the current season's growth on Chionanthus retusus. Also, the flowers of Chinese fringetree are slightly wider.

The Chinese fringetree blooms 2-3 weeks later than the American fringetree.
On a concluding note, you will never regret the decision to grow a fringetree, as the delicate flowers not only look beautiful, they will also fill your garden with their fragrance. All you need to do is choose a planting site that receives ample sunlight. The tree needs full sun to partial shade, and grows best in moist, rich, and well-drained soil.