Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

January-February, 2008

Fringe Trees (Chionanthus spp)

by Andrew R. King, Extension Graduate Student,
Texas AgriLife Extension Service, College Station, TX

With the spring garden season rapidly approaching, gardeners all over the state are in search of accent plants to give their landscape a boost.

Native Fringe Tree
Native Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus). Image courtesy of Greg Grant
The genus Chionanthus contains two large shrubs/small trees that would certainly add interest to any yard or garden. The White Fringetree also called Grancy Gray-beard (Chionanthus virginicus) and the Chinese Fringetree (Chionanthus retusus).

The White Fringetree or Grancy Gray-beard is a native to portions of East Texas. In cultivation, it generally grows to heights of 12 20 and is often that wide. It blooms in May to early June producing white flowers that have a fine texture and a slight but pleasant fragrance. During the flower-period, the trees will be loaded with clusters of blooms which makes for a very attractive display. Around the time of flower, the tree begins to leaf out producing a medium to dark green leaf that is narrow and elliptical in shape and often lustrous in appearance. In addition, a dark blue fruit is produced in August to September. The fruit is an oval-shaped drupe that can be attractive, but is usually diminished by being partially hidden by the foliage. As well as adding some ornamental interest to the fall landscape, the fruit attracts birds which will lend an added dimension to the garden. Though it is native to East Texas, the White Fringetree can be adapted to most of the state.

The Chinese Fringetree is a similar species, but by almost all accounts it is a showier version. It grows to be slightly taller than its native counterpart, ranging between 15 25 tall, and has a beautiful rounded shape. It also flowers in May June, but the blooms are a purer white and they tend to be larger. The flower panicles have a very fine texture, which along with the snow white color, yields a more refined plant. In full bloom the trees are completely covered with flowers which are contrasted by leaves that are darker green, more rounded and more lustrous than the White Fringetree. The Chinese Fringetree also produces a dark blue, drupe fruit, but it ripens a bit later. In this case, the fruit are not hidden by the foliage, but if fruit is desired, a female tree must be planted as males do not produce fruit. The Chinese species is an excellent choice for a tree that will add interest to a landscape for most of the year. It prefers deep, acid soils, but is highly adaptable and should be considered in most areas of Texas.

When searching for plants to add interest to your garden consider the genus Chionanthus. Whether you prefer the more subdued White Fringetree , or the more robust Chinese Fringetree, they are both excellent plants that will enrich most Texas landscapes.

Chinese Fringe Tree
Chinese Fringe Tree, Chionanthus retusus. Image courtesy of Dr. Dave Creech

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