Fringetree or Old Man's Beard is a beautiful, small tree when it is in full Spring bloom. It can grow nearly anywhere in the continental United States and it's white flower color kicks in just as the dogwood blooms are fading.
The upright oval to rounded form of fringe tree adds dark green color in summer, bright white flowers in spring. The pure white, slightly fragrant flowers hang in long, spectacular panicles which appear to cover the tree with cotton for two weeks. As with other white flowered trees, they look best when viewed against a dark background.
Scientific name: Chionanthus virginicus
Pronunciation: kye-oh-NANTH-us ver-JIN-ih-kuss
Common name(s): fringetree, old-man's-beard
USDA hardiness zones: 3 through 9
Origin: native to North America
Uses: container or above-ground planter; wide tree lawns; medium-sized tree lawns; recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; near a deck or patio; narrow tree lawns; specimen; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); residential street tree
Fringetree seedlings can vary in individual characteristics and is nearly impossible to propagate using cuttings. The small tree is cold hardy down to -30 degrees F. Fringe tree makes a great woodland or understory naturalizing plant but can also prosper in full sun. In a word, it is a versatile plant.
"This tree looks stunning, almost ethereal, when seen at peak bloom at night, illuminated by a full moon. And in the developed landscapes of your home, car headlights scanning around the edges of a driveway work just as well." - Guy Sternberg, Native Trees
"Fringe tree is an apt moniker for this delightful small flowering tree, whose white blossoms do resemble a fanciful white fringe suspended in the spring sunlight." - Rick Darke, The American Woodland Garden
Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite; whorled
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: oblong; obovate
Leaf venation: pinnate; reticulate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches; 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: not showy
Trunk and Branches:
Trunk/bark/branches: bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact; droop as the tree grows, and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy; routinely grown with, or trainable to be grown with, multiple trunks; not particularly showy; tree wants to grow with several trunks but can be trained to grow with a single trunk; no thorns
Pruning requirement: needs little pruning to develop a strong structure
Current year twig color: brown; green; gray
Current year twig thickness: medium; thick
Light requirement: tree grows in part shade/part sun; tree grows in the shade; tree grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; acidic; occasionally wet; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Dark green, glossy leaves emerge later in the spring than those of most plants just as the flowers are at peak bloom. This differs from Chinese Fringetree which flowers at the terminal end of the spring growth flush. Female plants develop purple-blue fruits which are highly prized by many birds. Fall color is yellow in northern climates, but is an unnoticed brown in the south, with many leaves dropping to the ground a blackened green. The flowers can be forced into early bloom indoors.
The plant eventually grows 20 to 30 feet tall in the woods, spreads to 15 feet, and tolerates city conditions well. But trees are more commonly seen 10 to 15 feet tall in landscapes where they are grown in the open. It forms as a multi-stemmed round ball if left unpruned but can be trained into a small tree with lower branches removed. Although reportedly difficult to transplant, Fringetree can be successfully moved quite easily with proper care. Could be used beneath power lines where no pruning would be required.
Fringetree looks best in a sunny spot sheltered from wind. The foliage appears more attractive when grown with several hours of shade but the tree blooms best in full sun. Probably best overall with some afternoon shade. A North American native commonly found in upland woods and stream banks throughout most of the South, Fringetree prefers moist, acid soil and will gladly grow in even wet soils. It grows very slowly, usually 6 to 10 inches per year, but can grow a foot per year if given rich, moist soil and plenty of fertilizer. There is only one flush of growth each year.