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Publication #ENH320

Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


It is hard to think of a more beautiful small tree than fringetree when it is in full bloom. The upright oval to rounded form adds dark green color in summer and bright white flowers in spring. The pure white, slightly fragrant flowers, emerging just as the dogwood flowers fade, 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.

Figure 1. 

Middle-aged Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree


Ed Gilman, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Chionanthus virginicus
Pronunciation: kye-oh-NANTH-us ver-JIN-ih-kuss
Common name(s): Fringetree, Old-Mans-Beard
Family: Oleaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 3A through 9B (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: little invasive potential
Uses: container or planter; specimen; deck or patio; street without sidewalk; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; highway median
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Figure 2. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 12 to 20 feet
Spread: 10 to 15 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: oval, round
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: slow
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: obovate, oblong
Leaf venation: pinnate, reticulate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches, 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Flower color: white/cream/gray
Flower characteristics: very showy


Fruit shape: oval, round
Fruit length: less than .5 inch, .5 to 1 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: blue, purple
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: little required
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: gray, brown, green
Current year twig thickness: medium, thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun, or partial shade; shade tolerant
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; occasionally wet; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: none


Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

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.

Chionanthus pygmaea (pygmy fringetree) is native to central Florida and is considered an endangered plant. It produces nice flowers and grows to only eight feet tall.


Scale can be controlled with horticultural oil sprays.

Mites are pests in full sun locations.


Leaf spots can be caused by several genera of fungi. Most years, the leaf spots are not a problem and there is no cause for control, but they can cause premature defoliation and spoil fall color display.

Powdery mildews of different genera may attack fringetree.

Stem cankers can girdle stems.



This document is ENH320, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Reviewed May 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.