Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fringe Benefits with Chionanthus virginicus

November is a great time to plant trees in Georgia. Our plentiful winter rains and cool temperatures help woody plants like trees and shrubs get off to a good start. In the last couple of weeks I have profiled two trees that have characteristics that I think people appreciate. The first one was about a fast growing tree that is also beautiful:  scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea). The second one was about a tree that is a winner for birds and is attractive for you:  serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.). This post is about a tree that is sure to be an outstanding specimen tree for you:  fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus).

Chionanthus virginicus

Our native fringetree has been admired and used by gardeners for many years. It is known to some as “grancy greybeard” because of the white flowers that look like an old man’s beard. A tree in full bloom is a spectacular sight and sure to attract a lot of attention in the landscape. An open, sunny spot is the perfect place for a specimen tree such as this.

Fringetree is a member of the Oleaceae family which includes Osmanthus (tea olive) and non-natives like Ligustrum (privet), lilac, forsythia, olives and many others. The dark blue drupes (fruit) of Chionanthus are only developed on female plants. Both male and female plants do flower and many people say that the male plants are showier in flower than the females.

Close up of the Chionanthus flowers
The loose clusters of white flowers open in April in north Georgia. The showy tree pictured above is located in a county park where the native plant society has it's annual sale in mid to late April. People are always impressed with it and ask if we have seedlings for sale. We have learned to stock up to meet the demand!

The mature size of fringetree is approximately 20 feet so it makes a perfect addition to a smaller garden. The lightly fragrant and showy flowers are meant to be enjoyed, so be sure to plant it where you can enjoy it such as near a window or walkway.

You can find excellent additional pictures at this website.


  1. What a beautiful tree! I love the white blooms. I wonder if it attracts butterflies? Thinking this would be a good native replacement for the invasive butterfly bush.

  2. I planted a Chionanthus virginicus in my Connecticut garden several years ago. It's still young and does get sporadic flowers on it but I'd be in heaven if it ever looks like the one in your photo.