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Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean 2


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 reaches 12 to 20 feet in height and 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.

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 (Figure 1)

Origin: native to southeastern and south central United States; as far north as New Jersey

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native

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

Figure 1. Range
Figure 1.  Range


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

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: yellow green and glossy on top, paler green underneath

Fall color: yellow

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 2. Leaf—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree
Figure 2.  Leaf—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree


Flower color: white/cream/gray

Flower characteristics: very showy; fragrant; emerges in cluster on stalks

Flowering: spring

Figure 3. Flower—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree
Figure 3.  Flower—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree


Fruit shape: oval, round

Fruit length: ¾ inch

Fruit covering: fleshy drupe

Fruit color: dark blue to black

Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Fruiting: late summer

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns

Bark: reddish brown and smooth, with raised leaf scars when young, turning lighter gray, rougher, and scaly with age

Pruning requirement: little required

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: gray, brown, green

Current year twig thickness: medium, thick

Figure 4. Bark—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree
Figure 4.  Bark—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree

Figure 5. Lenticils—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree
Figure 5.  Lenticils—Chionanthus virginicus: Fringetree
Credit: Gritta Hasing, UF/IFAS


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 pygmaeus (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.


Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.


1. This document is ENH320, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #ENH320

Release Date:April 11, 2019

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Part of Southern Trees Fact Sheets

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    • Andrew Koeser