Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday's Trees- Fringe Tree, Chionanthus

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The Fringe Tree is a tree that, until Jamestown's 400th Celebration, was unknown to me. As we live in the Historical Triangle; Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg, any celebration is cause for the entire area to join in. Yorktown decided to declare the Chionanthus virginicus the 'Yorktown Snow Flower Tree'.  York County fact sheet   Sales were up for the entire area, the tree was hard to come by and if by chance you found one…it was priced dearly.

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Lucky for the Learning Garden, we already had one. Well, ok, we have two Chionanthus. One is the virginicus and the other is the Chinese variety, retusus. Both are great specimen trees, nice shape, nice size, spring flowers, fruiting on the female tree (it is dioecious) –so how does one decide which to put into their garden? I have listed a pairing of websites for each of the trees. All of the sites have favorable remarks for both species. They are small multi-stems trees ranging from 12- 20 feet tall and wide. The virginicus is hardy zones 3-9, a true native with a wide range across the country. The retusus is hardy zones 5- 9, also a wide range. NC State- C. virginicus NC State- C. retusus, Missouri Botanical Garden- C. virginicus
Missouri Botanical Garden- C. retusus, UCONN-C. virginicus UCONN- C. retusus , Forestry Service- C. retusus, and Virginia Tech- C. virginicus
Growing conditions are full sun to part shade. Both require little maintenance, average water needs and well-drained soils. They seldom need pruning and have few pests. The spring flowers are fragrant and quite showy. The fruit in the fall is a dark bluish purple drupe, a wonderful food source for birds.
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So how does one choose? My favorite is the virginicus because it is a native, I like the flowers on this one better (retusus flowers point upward and the virginicus hang downward and are showier). The retusus has smaller glossier leaves. I think you could be happy with either one. The retusus in the Learning Garden didn't have many blooms this spring, so I didn't get a picture of it. I will add to the photos as the seasons bring leaf color change and next spring's blooms. Fall colors are said to range yellow to golden to brown. The leaves are opposite and whorled at the tip of the stem on the virginicus. The leaf margins on our virginicus are smooth and the retusus are serrated.
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If you have space in your garden, this tree, either the virginicus or the retusus would be a great addition.

Next week's tree- Red Buckeye.


  1. This tree was on our wish list for the fragrance garden, but at the time, we couldn't find a large enough specimen so planted a sweet bay magnolia. No regrets on the sweet bay, but we still long for a chionanthus!


  2. I've heard these recommended as great trees. I've seen them in bloom but did not know the flowers were fragrant or that they get fruit. It's lovely. I might have to look for a spot in my yard (or neighbors' since she lets me plant there):)

  3. Great pictures and information -- I have been considering this tree and you have pushed me over the edge, I think!
    Happy Tuesday!

  4. I *love* the native Fringe Trees. We have a couple growing at the wood's edge on our farm and the flowers smell delicious, like sweet coconut.

  5. Another tree I've never heard of! You really have me intrigued with this one, Janet; I'm going to have to look for one around here to see it in person. I really like that fringe look.

  6. I really like the Fringe tree. I hadn't heard of it until a friend of mine with a huge yard and lots of room for trees talked about planting one. The flowers are pretty and just look like they'd smell good.

  7. One of my favorite trees...but I lost it to drought a few years ago. It's time to find a space to plant another one! Thanks for the motivation. gail

  8. That first picture is very nice. Although I should like the native more, all other things being equal, I prefer the Chinese for its more horizontal branching structure.

  9. Janet,

    Nice photos of a very hard subject! WE have these trees in the local nature preserve, they grow near to tops of the hills here. I'll know next spring to take in the aroma thanks to you.

  10. Good evening Cameron, I know I am going to get a few Chionanthus for SC. I used Rarefind Nursery and got great plants.

    Hi Tina, Certainly worth planting! Hope you plant it.

    Hi Ginger, push push! ;-) Don't think you will be sorry.

    Hi Sweetbay, me too! Great tree!

    Hi Rose, I know this one will work for you! Sent one to my sister in Kansas.

    Hi Catherine, Isn't it a wonderful tree?

    Hi Gail, Sorry you lost one to drought, it is time to get another.

    Hi Les, Thanks, I like this photo too. Jim likes the retusus because of the glossy leaves. Personal preference. I like how the virginicus blooms hang.

    Hi Randy, thanks! I impress myself sometimes. Ours blooms the first week of May/end of April. Enjoy!

  11. I can't get enough of these! And Oh, by the way, forget Yorktown Snow Flower Tree...I've decided to rename them the Williamsburg White Fireworks Blossom Tree. I think it's catchier.

  12. Hi Phillip, catchier eh? I like plain ol' Fringe tree...or formal Chionanthus virginicus.

  13. I have often admired this tree before. Seems like I read that it can produce way too many baby trees? Have you noticed that problem? Maybe that was another tree.

  14. Very lovely! The leaves are HUGE! When you put your hand up under the leaf, I was amazed at just how truly large it is!

  15. Hi VW, I have not noticed it was a big producer of seedlings. The tree I did last week IS a seedling producer...borders on invasive in some states.

    Hi Daisy, yes, it is amazing how large the leaves are!

  16. I love this one, with such delicate looking flowers and stems. Looks like it's a good understory tree, and wouldn't cast much shade of its own.

  17. HI Megan, The flowers are very delicate. Very nice tree.

  18. thanks for stopping by my blog, janet! and welcome in advance to the carolinas. i had no idea fringe tree had fragrance. what a bonus. yay! i planted one(the native) in the early spring - can't wait to see it bloom.

  19. Hi Daricia, appreciate the welcome. I think you will be so happy with the Chionanthus. Great tree.

  20. This tree had been on my 'list' for awhile - thanks for the reminder.


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