Scientific name: Chionanthus virginicus
Common name: Fringetree
Plant type: Tree
In springtime, fringetree, or Grancy greybeard (Chionanthus virginicus) is festooned with unique and highly aromatic flowers. Individual petals are long and thin, like finely shredded paper. Clustered in drooping panicles they resemble a fluffy beard. Fringetree makes a striking focal point in a landscape border or against the backdrop of a building, although it is rather plain when not in bloom. Deciduous and often multi-trunked, it has an open structure and grows up to 10-30’ in height, with a crown spread of up to 20’. It is one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring. The leaves are simple, up to 6” long, glossy, oval, and dark green, with smooth edges and pubescent undersides. Their autumn color is yellow. The bark is pale gray. Fringetree has separate male and female plants. In summer, female plants produce clusters of blue-black drupes that attract many species of birds. The tree is also host to several species of native sphinx moths. Fringetree is highly adaptable, growing in sun to part-shade. Although it prefers loose, moist soil, it can tolerate many soil conditions. For many years, the species was considered relatively hardy and pest-free. Sadly, in 2014, it was discovered that fringetree is susceptible to Emerald ash borer, an Asian pest that is decimating ash trees across North America. Great care should be taken to purchase or transplant only non-infested specimens.
Credits: Text by Valerie Boss. Photos by Ellen Honeycutt.