Fringe Tree — The Best Native Tree Nobody Grows

April 28, 2013 | By | Comments (11)
Fringe tree

I saw this fringe tree on my drive in to work last Friday and had to take it’s 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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. amy jones

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

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

    They are all over Raleigh, NC>

    April 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm
  11. 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

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