Fringe Benefits

Chionanthus virginicus in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Chionanthus virginicus’ fragrant tassels (Photo: Kathy Diemer)

Each spring is filled with great anticipation for the fragrant clusters of shredded coconut-like flowers that will soon adorn every branch of my fringe trees.  Sweetly honeysuckle scented, the delicate white tassels remind me of the streamers at the end of my first bicycle’s handle bars as they fluttered in the breeze. (I’m dating myself, but those of you that remember the streamers may also remember banana seats, sissy bars and playing cards attached to the spokes with clothes line pins).

American Fringe Tree in Landscape in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

American Fringe Tree illuminates Landscape (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Chionanthus virginicus (American fringe tree) is an Eastern U.S. native (from Massachusetts to Texas) and is unrivaled in the smaller tree realm with its outstanding display of abundant gossamer clusters of fragrant ivory blossoms. Appearing late May to mid-June, the ethereal blossoms gently dangle from each branch like silken threads, creating the illusion of something light and airy floating on your landscape.  Chionanthus is derived from the Greek word meaning snow flower, indeed the flowers are as delicate as snowflakes.  Depending on weather conditions (heat and rainfall), the flowers may hold for several weeks before slowly sprinkling the ground.

Fringe Tree with Hemlock Neighbor in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Fringe Tree with Hemlock Neighbor (photo: Kathy Diemer)

The leaves start to emerge while the fringe tree is in bloom, and when the last tassels fall the leaves become much bolder in size and luster.  Tear drop in shape, each emerald green leaf can grow up to a tropical sized 8 inches.  Chionanthus is dioecious, which means there are male and female trees.  The males (like other species) are a bit showier and said to have longer petals, while the female (if properly paired) will produce late summer indigo fruits that local birds relish.  To ensure proper selection, try purchasing your fringe tree in fall when fruit will be visible on the female plants.

Chionanthus restusus 'Tokyo Tower' in A Garden For All by Kathy diemer

Japanese fringe tree Chionanthus restusus ‘Tokyo Tower’ (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I grow the American fringe tree because it is native, beautiful, and very tolerant of poor soils as long as it gets adequate moisture and full sun in zones 3-9.  Chionanthus virginicus is a slow grower, varying in shape from broad to columnar, and capable of growing to over 20 feet tall and wide.  I am also experimenting with a Japanese introduction, Chionanthus retusus ‘Tokyo Tower,’ which has frilly white non-fragrant blossoms, appears similar in size and growth patterns to its American cousin, and offers a more textural bark for added winter interest. Chionanthus retusus also prefers full sun, but requires watering during dry spells and is zone safe from 6-9.  Either choice (or both) will illuminate your yard and become a gorgeous specimen tree you’ll treasure for years to come ♥


  1. gloria miller says

    I love this tree-And it is part of my garden plan to grow more native plants and trees. Just coming into bloom and by the weekend should be gorgeous! It was worth the wait for it to grow to an appreciable size. This is a great tree for our gardens.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Gloria! I have 2 fringe trees and both are starting to bloom. Its an incredible sight and smells wonderful as well. Thanks so much for writing!

  2. Can this tree/bush be rooted by a branch? We just came across it for the first time and it was beautiful and would love to have one. I know there are several bushes that you can root from stems. Just wondering…….

    • There seems to be mixed feelings about growing a fringe tree from cuttings . . . I never have, but from what I have read you cut a branch about 6″ long (in May or June), make a few slices in the end and dip in rooting powder, then place bottom 1/3 in container filled with moist growing medium. Cover with clear plastic, store in indirect light and cross your fingers. Good luck, Ginny, thanks for writing. Let me know how you make out!

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