Fringe Tree

A Quick Guide To The Hardy Fringe Tree 


The fringe tree comes in 2 types, Chinese fringe, and simply fringe, or retusus and virginicus respectively.  The botanical name for both is chionanthus, in the oleaceae family.  Other names include grancy grey beard and old man’s beard, maybe because when in full bloom the fringy white fluffiness of the entire tree looks like Santa Clauses beard.

This hardy tree can survive in below zero temperatures, but cannot live in dessert regions.  It is designated for zones 5 to 9 (USDA hardiness zones).  The fringe tree requires a pronounced winter chill each winter to flourish. There are separate male and female trees, and there must be a male and a female to fruit.  The fruit is dark blue, olive or grape like.  It adds color and even more beauty to the tree. Birds love the blue fruit, but it is generally not edible.  Seeds from healthy, ripe fruit can be washed and dried, then planted indoors before the last frost, or in the ground when there is no danger of frost, to propagate this attractive asset to the garden.

It may also be propagated from cuttings or sticks.  These need to be calloused over at the end before planting.  The tree can grow from one of these sticks, to 20 feet tall, albeit not very quickly.

A fringe tree can be used as a shrub in the understory of other trees.  In a shady location like this, it grows only 3 to 4 feet tall at full maturity.

It is more aptly called a shrub, regardless of height, because it must be trained to a tree form. It’s usually kept as a wide spreading shrub of 12 or more feet tall. The male gets the biggest flowers, up to eight inches across, although both male and female have showy, lacey white flowers resembling a white lilac.  The virginicus has deliciously fragrant flowers, larger and more spectacular than the retusus. In the coldest regions, the virginicus grows slowly; if you’re lucky, it will grow about a foot a year.  However, on a 2-foot tall shrub it still blooms profusely with huge flowers.  Both types bloom in late spring to early summer and require moderate to frequent watering depending on high temperatures, and good drainage, and not too much pruning.  They prefer full sun, but can take partial shade

The fringe tree is attractive all year, with leaves turning from green, to dark yellow and then a very vivid yellow in fall.  In winter, the bark is of interest, a grayish brown, with smaller stems sometimes turning gold.

A few drawbacks to the fringe tree are that deer love to eat the flowers and leaves, as do insects, birds and small mammals if fruited. And the male form can cause allergic reactions in some people.  However, this tree is so desirable that if you plant one, soon your neighbors will want cuttings from which to grow their own, adding beauty and sweet fragrance to the entire neighborhood.



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