Fringe Tree — The Best Native Tree Nobody Grows

April 28, 2013 | By | Comments (47)
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


  1. Jean Wakely

    I am excited to learn that I have planted a female fringe tree, as it is bearing the black fruits! I lost a Red Bud due to blight in the roots. My arborist insists that this fringe tree will resist such damage. First year in from the nursery and I am already in love with it.

    September 17, 2016 at 4:59 pm
  2. Abraham Lateiner

    I bought seeds for this tree but they are like little rocks! Seem like they will never sprout. Can someone advise me as to how I should go about planting from a seed?

    September 12, 2016 at 10:52 am
  3. Monica Gase

    I recently was given a Fringe tree for my birthday. I was thrilled! I hope it does well here in Miami County, Ohio,especially with the winter weather coming in a few months. Can you offer any tips to help it grow and thrive? Thanks!

    September 6, 2016 at 4:29 am
  4. An urban surprise

    […] in the entryway or shade garden. Bulk and structure are proffered by azaleas, elders, hydrangeas, a fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), and serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis). In between and alongside are a […]

    August 6, 2016 at 9:48 am
  5. Janet Centers

    Thanks, Allen. I’d already thought i’d try again in late Oct or Nov, depending on weather.
    I’ve got some wood ashes I didn’t use on my lilac.
    I’m pretty sure my current fringe tree has bit the dust, the leaves are fried.

    June 1, 2016 at 12:32 pm
  6. Aerin

    This is my favorite flowering tree, and it grows like a weed in my yard, here in central NC. Literally like a weed — I have seedlings coming up all the time, which I pot and then plant along the woods edge. True, it’s slow growing, but with part sun, it starts blooming when still very small. Thanks for giving this marvelous tree some publicity!

    May 31, 2016 at 11:09 am
  7. Allen

    I live in Alabama. The best time to transplant a fringe tree is in late fall. I’d also suggest using some potash to promote root growth during the winter months.

    May 29, 2016 at 1:32 pm
  8. Janet Centers

    When is the best time to transplant a fringe tree? Mom has 1 in her yard and I’m on my second try. I live in zone 7, N TN. The 1st try had been in a pot for 2 years. I put it in the yard in early Spring, the leaves dried up and it just died. I watered it well too.
    I dug another up and planted it in early Spring and the leaves are browning on it also.
    If it dies, when should I attempt it again? She has a small cluster of them that I can use.
    I really want one in my front yard. They are gorgeous.

    May 29, 2016 at 8:19 am
  9. owlii

    […] The weird tree I mentioned last time is apparently a Fringe tree […]

    May 20, 2016 at 8:06 am
  10. Gena Nixon-Mefford

    My boyfriend somehow felt the need to trim my 40 year old fringe that has been in my yard my entire life and my grandfather planted before I was born. He trimmed it to the flipping trunk and I mean literally a 3 foot stick sticking from the ground with 3 small little stumps left. Will it grow back? I’m devastated! Please tell me it will come back like my azaleas and crape myrtles do!!

    May 16, 2016 at 1:21 pm
  11. Rita Andring

    we are fortunate to have found one if these on our travels through eastern Washington state nurseries. the scent if the flowers in the spring always reminds me of Hawaii! we have it planted on the south side of the house in central Washington desert- it has flourished- after 10 years it’s about 9 ft tall and 7 ft wide, virtually bug free. the only maintenance I have needed to do is snip a few suckers at he base each spring. moderate water it’s in full summer sun ranging 80’s-100degrees plus. strong, surviving winter snow load and wind

    May 14, 2016 at 10:12 pm
  12. Lynneth Hommer

    Where can I purchase one? It’s gorgeous.

    May 14, 2016 at 11:04 am
  13. Sheilah schlenk

    I love this tree.l have one. It so pretty.

    May 5, 2016 at 7:09 pm
  14. Allen Zorn

    David Fuller from Eufala Ala…

    Hi my name is Allen Zorn. I live in Prattville, Ala. I sure would like to speak with you about Fringe/ Grancy GrayBeard trees. Please contact me at your convenience @ 334-361-4684 or email me at

    Thank you so much,,,

    Allen Zorn

    April 30, 2016 at 11:46 pm
  15. Allen

    David from Eufala Ala…
    Hi my name is Allen. I live in Prattville, Ala. I sure would like to speak with you about Fringe/ Grancy GrayBeard trees. Please contact me @ 334-361-4684.

    Thanks much,,,


    April 30, 2016 at 11:12 pm
  16. Billie Taylor

    Hey, Grumpy. Enjoyed your article about the Chionanthus Virginicus (Grancy Greybeard in my area). I have one and it has been in my woodland garden for over 10 years. That is the slowest growing small tree I have ever seen. It has only bloomed twice so I have no way of telling whether it is male or female. I’m thinking I will buy a few more after the fruiting season is over this autumn so I can guarantee getting at least one of each. Keep up the good work.

    April 9, 2016 at 3:27 pm
  17. 9 native plants to plant |

    […] due to its huge, lacy-white, fragrant flowers that droop down like an old man’s beard. In 2013, Southern Living called the American Fringe Tree “the best native tree that nobody […]

    March 30, 2016 at 3:19 pm
  18. David Fuller

    In Eufala, Ala., there is a two-block section on a street a block west of the main drag through downtown with dozens of fringe trees.

    A friend and I used to hunt in the area and identify fringe trees during turkey season, mark them with surveyor’s tape, come back after deer season and dig them up to plant at home or the homes of friends.

    In the South way too many fringe trees fall victim to clear cutting when the “pine plantations” are harvested too supply the disposable world.

    March 30, 2016 at 9:22 am
  19. Caroline Ray

    My parents had a large shrub in their front

    March 6, 2016 at 4:00 pm
  20. Barbara DeBarr

    I would like to grow a Smoke Bush and do not now if they would do well in Clearwater FL. Can you help?

    February 2, 2016 at 6:23 pm
  21. Chionanthus virginica | Find Me A Cure

    […] Fringe Tree – The Best Native Tree Nobody Grows […]

    December 14, 2015 at 11:18 pm
  22. chicagoconcertman

    BE AWARE THAT AS OF 2014 AMERICAN FRINGE TREES ARE OFFICIALLY ON EMERALD ASH BORERS MENU! Both Ash & Fringe species Oleaceae related. Thanks Asia for sending EAB over with car parts 2 Detroit.

    October 12, 2015 at 10:16 pm
  23. Shernettia

    Will this tree grow be able to grow in Michigan’s cold weather????

    October 9, 2015 at 7:49 pm
  24. treeys01

    I would have to agree that having the professionals take care of the tree trimming is the way to go. There are a lot of unexpected hazards that come from trimming trees. If you don’t know where the branches are going to fall then it could be dangerous.

    July 23, 2015 at 12:15 pm
  25. chicagoconcertman

    Emerald Ash Borer has not been observed completing instar stages by utilizing American Fringe, which is related to Ash & Olive family. So having one growing next to your families American Ash protected with temporary treatment against tree species extinction should not be a problem. But yes, keep up with field studies just in case things change. Enjoy!

    May 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm
  26. Penny Astoria

    Would love to post pic of gorgeous fringe tree growing and blooming in a famous park here in Eugene, Oregon! Who knew this was well-known in the South! I had never heard of tree and was truly astounded to behold it on Memorial Day 2015 here in the Northwest!

    May 26, 2015 at 1:18 pm
  27. sandy thomas

    Would like to know how close you can plant them to your house? Would love to have this on the corner of my house but not much room.

    May 23, 2015 at 6:54 pm
  28. Ranji Stewart

    What time of year is it safe to prune a Fringe Tree?

    May 19, 2015 at 3:09 pm
  29. LD

    Left one in Alpharetta, should be 20 years old now. I saw it a few years ago and it is still beautiful. The one at my new house is about 10 years old, right off of the porch to enjoy the wonderful smell when it blooms. Everybody loves this tree!!!

    May 13, 2015 at 8:12 pm
  30. Jeff

    These are beautiful trees! I just planted one and it is about to burst in to bloom. I am surprised to see all the people saying they eould like to dig them or steal them from wild areas- this not a good idea and may very well be illegal. Removing native trees from areas where they are established increases the chance for invasive species to establish not to mention they are there for everyone to enjoy, including the wildlife that feed on them.

    May 12, 2015 at 11:34 pm
  31. Carrie

    I’m going to have to move my fringe tree to put on an addition to my house. My tree is about 7 feet tall and 4 feet across – at least 14 years old. Do they respond well to transplantation?

    May 12, 2015 at 7:17 am
  32. Kim

    I purchased one of these lovely trees last weekend in Asheville, at a plant festival. Right now its a baby. How do you tell males from females? And how rootbound do they get? Very intrigued by this specimen!
    Curious in SC.

    May 6, 2015 at 7:24 am
  33. Paul Henehan

    Thanks for the wonderful article. I bought our female tree at Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill 7 years ago. Now 7″ tall it would be bigger but voles have ravaged it the last few years. So mysterious and a vision in bloom on foggy and gloomy days! The fragrance is powerful to my damaged nose!

    April 30, 2015 at 8:51 pm
  34. teresa baker

    There is a grandpa’s bread growing in woods behind my house. I would like to dig it up and put in my yard. When is the best time to do this?

    April 30, 2015 at 10:09 am
  35. Jennifer Albert

    I bought mine at the botanical garden in New Orleans. They have a huge one there and sell the babies that come up, at there annual plant sale….paid $20.00 for it and it was already 2 1/2 feet tall! Now it lives in kentucky!

    April 5, 2015 at 9:56 pm
  36. Bobby McCranie (Munson Florida)

    I live in northwest florida (65 miles north of P;cola and 7 miles south of Alabama). This was my mothers favorite tree she called a Grancy Greybeard. I have bought 2 others at a nursery but I do have a “look-out crew” spottin them through out the management area here and taggin them with engineers ribbon so I can attempt to dig up. The state of Florida frowns on digging in a mngt. area but this tree is well worth the risk. I currently have 4 on my place and desire to have approx. 20-30 more.

    April 5, 2015 at 4:14 pm
  37. Bradford Pears and Mangroves | HORTravels

    […] you know another name for the native (& underused) Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is Grancy Grey Beard? I didn’t, I learned it at a rest […]

    February 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm
  38. Sherry Truett Rash

    My mama found one in the wooded area behind her home a few years back and we always called them the old mans beard. Glad to see it isnt unknown🙂 and yes I’ll have one or maybe two because their is others in that wooded area 🙂

    May 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm
  39. Wendy

    That’s beautiful Vikki! I’m in St. Louis and discovered this tree last year – I LOVE it! I bought two, and one turned out to be female and the other male. I had fruit on the female the first year.

    The male’s flowers are showier than the female’s, and I’m seeing why…the spring leaf buds are decidedly different, with the male’s a fat cluster, and the female’s a single bud. I love that this tree blooms a month or so after all of the other flowering trees.

    Re: the single trunk – this can be achieved by pruning. I didn’t do this myself – the nursery had the single and multi trunk forms, so they did the scary work🙂

    Overall I agree with the fact that this gorgeous little tree is overlooked. I still can’t believe I’d never seen or heard of one until last year!

    May 5, 2013 at 8:39 am
  40. WWilliam P Cochran

    Vikki your fringe tree is beautiful. thank you for allowing me to take a look.

    May 4, 2013 at 9:33 am
  41. Sydney


    You have a beautiful specimen. I love that it has a singular trunk, which is fairly uncommon for this tree.

    May 4, 2013 at 9:21 am
  42. Vikki

    William, I am computer challenged at times. I have made the pictures public. You should be able to see them now.

    April 30, 2013 at 6:46 am
  43. Linda Woodworth

    I have what my mama called a “Grandaddy Greybeard.” Is this the same plant or different? Mine is only 4-5 feet tall and doesn’t appear to be getting bigger.

    April 30, 2013 at 5:58 am
  44. William Cochraan

    Vikki, I attempted look at your fringe trees but I was denied access.
    Grumpy, apparently lots of folks take you advise nearly all the sources you listed have sold out of fringe trees. Great job Grumpy!

    April 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm
  45. amy jones

    This is my all time favorite tree. Love native plants:)

    April 29, 2013 at 6:24 am
  46. Arthur in the Garden!

    They are all over Raleigh, NC>

    April 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm
  47. Vikki

    Since reading your article many years ago in Southern Living, I have been captivated by the Fringe tree. I finally purchased a Chinese Fringe about 5 years ago Such a beautiful tree with lovely blooms and interesting trunk bark. Here are some pictures of mine taken today 4/28/2013. Vikki in VA.

    April 28, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s