White Fringe Tree

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White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) is also known as Old-man’s-beard, or sometimes as Gray-beard. It grows native in the eastern and southern United States as a large deciduous shrub or a dense, round-headed small tree, usually with multiple trunks. Under good growing conditions, trees may reach about 30’ in height.

White Fringe Tree, Trees in NC, North Carolina Trees, Union County Trees, Trees, Forage, The White Fringe Tree has thick, stiff twigs that bear long (4 to 8”) oblong leaves. These deciduous plants can be dioecious, meaning they have only male or female flowers on an individual plant. They can also be polygamo-dioecious where one plant can have female and bisexual flowers and another plant has male flowers and bisexual flowers. Flowers are produced before new growth around May in 8” long flower sprays. The individual flowers have four narrow white petals that are 1 to 1 ½” long. The plant is particularly showy when covered with the large, airy panicles of white flowers. Flowers are followed by green fruit, called drupes, that turn dark blue when ripe, resembling ½” long olives.

Fringe tree occurs naturally in rich loamy soil in woods and along streams. It is tolerant of a wide range of conditions from full sun to partial shade. The best flowers are produced when the plant is in full sun. Its bold, dark green foliage is attractive in summer, and is moderately showy in autumn when the fruits are ripe. Depending on the individual plant, its location, and the year fall color can vary from a yellowish green-brown to a bright golden yellow.

This tree is one of our native plants that is not used in the landscape as often as it should be. You can find this plant in botanical gardens, arboretums, and at native plant sales and garden centers who carry native plants. It makes an excellent small specimen tree with single or multiple trunks and is a show-stopper when it is in bloom if planted as a single tree surrounded by lawn.