The fringe tree

A beautiful Chinese Fringe Tree in full bloom is a majestic sight in our area this time of year. Photo by Michelle Cassell.


By Kit Flynn

When this photo of the Chinese fringe tree appeared, I immediately decided that I needed one for my garden, despite having no room. Lust is hard to satisfy at times, alas.

There are basically two types of fringe trees: the Chinese, Chionanthus retusus and the American, Chionanthus virginicus. Both grow well in the Southeast and there is very little difference between the two, except that the Chinese version has smaller, shinier foliage than the American one. There are no cultivars of either as fringe trees are hard to propagate; they must be grown from seed as cuttings do not work and division is not possible.

The fringe trees come in male and female versions with the male producing larger blooms while the female has both flowers and the resulting fruit that is favored by birds. Invasiveness is not a problem. It is not possible to determine which sex a specimen is unless one is bearing fruit, indicating it is a female.

As members of the witch hazel family, fringe trees have gone unnoticed as they bloom at the same time as our native dogwood, Cornus florida. The famed horticulturalist, Michael Dirr, believes that we should embrace C. virginicus as our national shrub/small tree over the dogwood; the native American tree is prized in the UK.

This is a slow growing tree that grows well in various soils provided it has a sunny spot. It is not recommended for beach communities as it cannot tolerate salt spray. Alas, deer do appreciate its foliage, fruit and bark so while young, it will need some protection.

This is not an easy tree to find in nurseries, although now with the emphasis on native plants in gardening circles, they are starting to carry it. More information about both fringe trees can be found here.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at

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1 Comment on "The fringe tree"

  1. Julie McClintock | April 19, 2024 at 1:22 pm | Reply

    This is my new favorite small tree!
    It is heavenly in bloom.

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