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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):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • Under utility lines

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

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


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline 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

Seasons 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.


Location of Chionanthus retusus (Chinese fringetree) at the Arboretum