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TREES & plants

Fringe tree

Fringe tree grows as either a wide-spreading, multi-stemmed shrub or a small tree useful in native woodland gardens, as a specimen plant in groups, borders, or near large buildings. The fringe tree's most outstanding feature is the fragrant, strap-like, white flowers that are borne in six to eight-inch long fleecy panicles in late May to early June.

Botanical name: 
Chionanthus virginicus
All Common Names: 
fringe tree, fringetree, old man's beard, white fringetree
Family (English): 
Olive
Family (Botanic): 
Oleaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
  • Tree
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks
  • Under utility lines
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Mixed border
  • Patio/sidewalk
Size Range: 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet)
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
Mature Height: 
12-20 feet
Mature Width: 
12-20 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Prefers
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Tolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Intolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fragrant flowers
  • Showy flowers
  • Spring blossoms
  • Showy fruit
Season of Interest: 
  • Late spring
  • Early summer
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Oval
  • Spreading
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Transplants Well: 
  • No
Wildlife: 
  • Birds
More Information: 

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)photo: John Hagstrom
Size and Form

10 to 20 feet high and wide; oval to wide spreading form

Tree & Plant Care

Tolerant of wind, salt, and air pollution.
Best grown in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, fertile soils.
Seldom needs pruning.

Disease, pests and problems

No common serious problems

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of wind, salt, and air pollution.
Resistant to black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to the southeastern United States.

Bark color and texture 

Light gray-brown and slightly ridged.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Leaves are late to emerge in spring. 
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

 Fleecy, 6 to 8 inch clusters (panicles) of  strap-like, four-petaled white flowers resembling an old man's beard.
Dioecious (separate male and female plants).  Male flowers are showier than female flowers.
Flowers on the previous year’s wood.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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