TREES & plants

Chinese fringetree

Habit of Chinese fringetree.

Chinese fringetree is a beautiful multi-stemmed shrub to small tree, very similar in appearance to our native species with exfoliating, gray-brown bark. In mid-spring, erect clusters of fragrant, white flowers are quite showy.  Female plants produce dark purple fruits in late summer. The dark green, leathery leaves turn a soft yellow in fall.

Botanical name: 
Chionanthus retusus
All Common Names: 
Chinese fringetree
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub, 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • Under utility lines
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing, 
  • Patio/sidewalk, 
  • Specimen, 
  • Utility
Size Range: 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet), 
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet), 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
Mature Height: 
15-25 feet
Mature Width: 
15-25 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Spring blossoms, 
  • Fall color, 
  • Fragrant flowers, 
  • Showy flowers
Season of Interest: 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant, 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Transplants Well: 
  • No
  • Birds, 
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Grows in full sun to light shade. 
Prefers moist, slightly acidic soils; very drought sensitve.
Rarely needs pruning.
Benefits with a layer of mulch to conserve moisture.

Disease, pests, and problems

No common serious problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Japan, Korea and China.

Bark color and texture 

The gray-brown bark is exfoliating into strips.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, opposite, narrow to elliptical leaves;  3 to 8 inches long with entire margins;  lustrous medium green, paler underside.
Yellow fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Fragrant, white flowers are borne in upright clusters at the end of branches in late spring.  Male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious).

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Only female plants bear ½ inch long, bluish fruit, which ripens in September.


Chionanthus retusus or Chinese fringetree