Fringe Tree — The Best Native Tree Nobody Grows

April 28, 2013 | By | Comments (64)
Fringe tree

I saw this fringe tree on my drive in to work last Friday and had to take its picture. It’s what I call a “drive-by shooting.” Photo by Steve Bender.

You’d think a small, native tree with pretty spring flowers and pretty fall foliage that’s easier-than-pie to grow would be a staple in our gardens. You’d be wrong. So let me tell you about fringe tree.

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) has always played twelfth fiddle to dogwood, saucer magnolia, flowering cherry, Bradford pear (yuck), and numerous others choices for spring-flowering trees. That’s just wacky. Indigenous to the eastern U.S., it grows from Canada all the way down to the Gulf Coast. It’s tougher than dogwood, more dependable than saucer magnolia, longer-lived than cherry, and smells better than stinky Bradford. And it’s beautiful.

Fringe tree

White, fleecy blooms  hang beneath the branches. Photo by Steve Bender.

Fringe tree gets its name from its clouds of fleecy white, softly fragrant flowers that hang from the branches in late spring and early summer. Other common names here in the South are grancy graybeard and old man’s beard. Trees can be either male or female. Males sport larger, showier blooms, but females form attractive, blackish-blue fruits that birds like. Nurseries don’t sell trees by sex, so you have to take your chances. But either sex is well worth planting.

Just the Facts
So now that Grumpy has convinced you that unless you plant a fringe tree this spring, you will be cast out of the Hoe & Trowel Society, let me provide you with the basics about this charming, native tree.

Size: 12 to 20 feet tall and wide
Shape: Rounded and usually multi-trunked
Light: Full to partial sun
Soil: Moist, fertile, well-drained
Water needs: Moderate, tolerates some drought
Fall foliage: Bright yellow
Pests: NONE
Hardiness zones: USDA Zones 3-9
Prune: Seldom needed; prune after flowering
Bonus fact: Tolerates air pollution; good for city gardens
Bonus bonus fact: One of the last trees to leaf out in spring

Where to Buy
Independent garden centers are your best bet to find fringe trees for sale. You can also buy them from mail-order nurseries, but of course the trees will be small. Here’s a list of Grumpy-Certified Mail-Order Suppliers.

1. Woodlanders

2. Forest Farm

3. Fairweather Gardens

4. Sunlight Gardens

5. Niche Gardens

COMMENTS

  1. Meg Soltis

    Our fringe tree is easily over 100 years old and is a gift of beauty and fragrance every year. I live in NE Ohio and have seen only two others blooming in this area. New green sprouts appear at ground level, which I have tried to replant and have been unsuccessful. I am having it professionally trimmed to improve shape. Tree has become “leggy” with blooms only at the ends of skinny branches. Thanks for your suggestions on feeding which I will do. I’m open to other suggestions.

    May 27, 2017 at 12:48 pm
  2. Allen

    In terms of “flower” I’m not sure what you are or were referencing. Maybe a picture?
    It is a white, fleecy bloom that hangs beneath the branches as in the photo by Steve Bender.

    May 15, 2017 at 9:57 am
  3. Jocelyn Nigro

    We have had a Fringe tree for over 20 years and have never seen a flower! Perhaps it wasn’t really what we thought it was ? Ideas, please. Thank you

    May 15, 2017 at 8:54 am
  4. Berita Sepakbola Terkini dan Terupdate

    Very good article! We are linking to this particularly great article on our website.

    Keep up the great writing.

    May 5, 2017 at 7:16 am
  5. Dolores Morisseau

    I am in love with this tree and wait every year to see if it survived the winter in Great Falls Park in Virginia. I have watched it bloom for seventeen years and hope to always see it in spring. I wish I actually had a yard in which to plant one.

    May 2, 2017 at 1:28 pm
  6. Melissa Baird

    Would love to know if fringe trees will grow on the west coast on Florida, near Clearwater. Please let me hear from you!

    April 30, 2017 at 7:26 pm
  7. Allen

    Janet ~

    You are so very welcome…. Even if in the late summer months you happen to see the leaves seem to die on the branch, don’t despair. Late year, It just so happened that I decided to plant a female fringe tree (one that produces berries). These are very hardy trees and will come back in the spring of next year….. Potash will help to produce foliage and strong roots.

    Keep me posted…

    ~allen

    April 28, 2017 at 4:56 pm
  8. Janet Centers

    Thanks for this great blog! Thanks to Allen for your great advice. I planted a clump of 3 tiny fringe trees, found in mom’s yard, last Oct. I mixed wood ash in, mulched heavily, and put a
    wire cage on them to thwart the deer.
    I kept watching the 3 tiny sticks for signs of life. Finally they are full of leaves!
    Mom said the ashes would kill them. LOL
    When the sun gets blazing hot, I’ll put a shield around them to keep them from frying.
    Hopefully the roots have taken hold, and that won’t happen this time. Third time must be the charm! I have a yard full of beautiful flowers, but couldn’t grow an “easy” tree.

    April 28, 2017 at 7:17 am
  9. Debbie Haddock

    Very beautiful tree would love to get another one growing

    April 21, 2017 at 7:56 am
  10. 5 Best Trees to Plant in Virginia – Above Ground Tree Service

    […] Southern Living calls the Fringtree the “best tree no one knows about” because so few people get one. Still, it is a great choice for people who live near cities or busy roads because pollutants don’t seem to bother its growth at all. […]

    April 19, 2017 at 11:50 am
  11. Emma

    Ours is gorgeous! Got rid of all the Bradford pears we had but would not want to lose our fringe tree! It smells woonderful too.

    April 7, 2017 at 5:27 pm
  12. Fringe tree: starting a plant guild | Work 園 Progress

    […] going to use the mature fringe tree as an anchor in a permaculture plant guild.  I’m thinking about a ring of tete-a-tete […]

    April 2, 2017 at 9:19 am
  13. Mary Adams

    I’ve had my fringe tree for three years. It is growing and appears healthy but it hasn’t bloomed at all. Does it need some type of fertilser to encourage it to bloom?

    April 1, 2017 at 6:34 pm
  14. Charlotte

    ceekay6174@gmail.com
    My fringe tree put out leaves early this year, as the weather was unseasonably warm. We had a few days of freezing weather and all of the leaves turned brown!! Will the tree bud put again and bloom as usual?

    March 31, 2017 at 9:18 pm

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