American Fringe Tree Chionanthus Virginicus Flowering Tree for Urban Gardens

American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus has long been a favorite of mine for small space and urban gardens. It is a stunner in bloom – not much compares, and the summer and fall foliage is attractive enough to be worth incorporating it into a formal landscape design. I am happy to have seen this native tree used more in recent years and can now find it for sale in larger nurseries.

Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus flowers

Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus flowers

American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus, also known as Grancy Greybeard or Old Man’s Beard, is a small deciduous tree or shrub native to the eastern United States (USDA Plant Profile) and hardy zones 3 to 9. Overall maintenance is low and it  keeps to a small size of 12′ – 20′, making it a great pick for small space gardens or public areas.


Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus blooms

American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus blooms

From May to June delicate, white flowers appear before the leaves emerge. The tassel like blooms are numerous and hang in showy clusters covering the tree, giving it an airy, delicate look. American Fringe Tree has a long bloom period and will bring beauty to the late spring garden for weeks.

American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus is dioecious with separate male and female plants, however an individual tree may have perfect flowers. Male trees are showier than female in bloom, yet I have cultivated both male and female specimens and find both to have ornamental merit. Oddly my female trees have never been happy growing in tree form but prefer to be shrubs while the males are happier as trees. I have also heard this from other people who grow both sexes.


Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus leaves

American Fringe Tree leaves. Photo: Kinsey Family Farm

Foliage emerges just after the blooms. They start the season with a bright green color which will eventually turn to a glossy, dark green with a thick, interesting texture and wide, pear shape. American Fringe Tree is late to wake in the spring and will be one of the last plants in a garden to leaf out. Foliage serves as a food source for Rustic sphinx  Manduca rustica moth.


American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus berries

American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus berries

In late summer, fertilized perfect or female flowers will develop clusters of dark blue, almost metallic olive like fruits which are a food source for birds and other wildlife. The grape size fruit will not last long on the plant as the birds eat them as soon as they ripen, leaving no mess under a tree. Fall leaf color is a bright yellow that will stand out in the autumn garden.

American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus is easily grown in in full sun to part shade  average, medium, well-drained soil. It will tolerate clay soil and pollution. I have grown it as an understory tree in dappled shade in loamy woodland soil as well as in full sun in more clay based dirt. It has done well in both conditions but prefers a little relief from the hot afternoon sun of Georgia. American Fringe Tree may dry out between watering but will not tolerate prolonged dry spells. It preforms well in urban settings and has no serious insect or disease problems.

This is a wonderful, hardy tree for many landscape uses. It rarely needs pruning and may be formed into a single or multi trunk specimen or grown as a shrub without fuss. Plant it as a specimen tree, front yard tree, in a naturalized setting or mixed border. Versatile, attractive, low maintenance and hardy. What more could you ask for?

American Fringe Tree Chionanthus virginicus is a native plant alternative to Callery pear/Bradford pear Pyrus calleryana, Princess tree Paulownia tomentosa, Autumn olive, Silverthorn, or Russian olive Elaeagnus umbellata.

© 2013, Karyl Seppala. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    What a beautiful tree. I’m trying to think where I might fit this into my garden. Love the color of those berries. I love that you offer this tree as an alternative to exotics and invasives. Right now I am enjoying a young Serviceberry in bloom.

  2. says

    Karyl, thanks so much for bringing this to the surface. I can’t tell you how many landscapers have expressed to me exactly the same sentiments as you have here: “This is such a lovely tree, perfect for home landscapes; it deserves to be more widely used!” I think so often we get stuck in ruts – WhatWeSeeIsWhatWeGet. That would be WWSIWWG. Hope your post gets the Chionanthus virginicus on plenty of “buy” lists this spring!

  3. says

    Karyl, American fringetree is one of my favorite trees. I planted one in my Connecticut garden several yeas ago and it’s just coming into it’s own. The flowers are so fragrant, I just love to walk the tree when it’s in bloom. Interesting to find out that some of the flowers are perfect. Two years ago I had a handful of fruit on my tree, which was a wonderful surprise but also a mystery! I don’t know why it’s not more widely planted because it’s such a graceful alternative to all the showy early-spring flowering trees.
    Debbie recently posted..Antennaria neglecta ~ You Can Grow That!

  4. says

    My new little tree has not woken yet when we planted it last year and I hope it survived…I have another new one I plan to put in the garden….I have seen these in bloom and they are just a stunner.

  5. says

    Oh, I could stare at blooming Fringetree pictures all day long, I find those flowers absolutely exquisite. Thank you for the info about males and females – we were given a pair of Fringetrees last year as a 10-yr-anniversary gift and they were both blooming in their containers but I did not see a single berry on either one and I’m not sure what sex either of them are. Will have to examine the flowers more closely this year but I may have to find another one of the opposite sex for some cross-pollination. Oh those plant matchmaking games we play :)
    Ellen Sousa recently posted..Norcross Sanctuary – Hidden Jewel of Monson, MA

  6. joyce jones says

    I have an american fringe tree bought last fall – it had some fringe this spring and now has what I consider to be very sparse leaves- is this normal or what can I do to full it out?


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