Fringe Trees, Fragrant and Fluttery

Ilona Erwin

My first introduction to fringe trees was through the writings of Helen Van Pelt Wilson. Descriptions of their fragrance and delicate bloom exposed Wilson’s obvious love for her dooryard addition of a fringe tree, as she extolled the all-season beauty of these small landscape trees.

I now have a small number of these trees growing in my landscape, now. All in their more natural shrub-like growth, rather than pruned as a small tree as she had done.

About Chionanthus Virginicus

Fringe trees, Chionanthus virginicus, are in the family Oleaceae (olive family), as are lilacs, forsythia, and privet.

They flower later than most spring bloomers. Showing their little tassels of cream petaled flowers in the window of time between spring and summer, they quickly give way to handsome foliage of medium green with small, bluish, olive shaped berries that birds enjoy.

-needs moisture-
-male and female to produce berries-
-sun to part sun-
– slow growing-
– shrubby-

Male and female plants are needed to produce berries in dioecious plantsmale and female flowers are on separate plants such as the Chionanthus.

How To Grow

Fringetree Sulks When Dry

Mulch helps preserve moisture and breaks down to enrich the soil with organic matter. Both conditions important for this tree to thrive.

Needing moisture, expect it to wilt and sulk when too dry. Will grow in full sun, but enjoys conditions more like the thickets in which it grows naturally. If you have a sunny spot with moisture, it will grow and bloom beautifully there- I have a tree that thrives with Eastern exposure to sun and western shelter of a large arborvitae.

Its form is a multi-stemmed tree or large shrub, usually 15 to 20 feet in height and spread.

“Because it’s slow growing, situate it where it will not be overpowered by nearby shrubbery” –Gerald Klingaman


fringe tree autumn

A Slow Growing Ornamental Tree
  • Quite slow growing, and now, years later, I wish I had been aware of this advice to be careful of choosing it’s neighbors with growth patterns in mind.
  • Grows about 6 to 10 inches per year.
  • I learned the hard way that the Shasta doublefile viburnums, which seemed like such a pretty pairing with fringe trees in my imagination, are much too vigorous for the slow growing Chionanthus. I think it is my underestimation of the doublefile viburnum’s growth potential that led to their poor situating in my garden.
  • The Fringe trees are quite polite residents of dooryard gardens, driveways, and small garden beds.
  • The viburnums, however, need some elbow room if they are to be appreciated for their own characteristic beauty. So keep the romping growers situated away from the Fringe tree.

In The Garden

This is a good urban tree since it tolerates pollution.

Fringe Tree Companions

Euphorbia, Weigelas, late tulips, forget-me-nots, pansies, foam flowers, sweet woodruff, bugloss, ajuga, moss phlox, phlox divaricata, bleeding hearts, and native columbines all bloom at a similar time.

Ajuga and scilla hispanica underneath would be especially delightful.

Hostas are always good tree companions, but especially in the fall when both would turn shades of clear yellow.

Gallery of Fringetree Photos

Consider a stand of Siberian or Dutch iris underneath, the contrast of foliage and flower shapes would be interesting and beautiful.

Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) in Morton Arboretum Ground Cover Garden

Take Note
This article is about the native Chionanthus virginicus. There are two “fringe trees” available for gardeners, this one and the Chinese fringetree, Chionanthus retusus.

Fun Facts

Birds love the berries, and the tree serves as larval host and nectar for the sphinx moth,(Manduca rustica).

It’s common name is “Old Man’s Beard” which it shares with the autumn clematis.

Other Ornamental Trees

You might also be interested in the profile for the Redbud tree, another fine ornamental flowering tree of smaller size



The Fringe tree is a top choice small landscape tree

The Fringe tree is a top choice as a small landscape tree. This is mine in full bloom.

These pages might also interest you:
Magnolia stellata, another ornamental tree of merit.
Autumn Clematis, which is fragrant and blooms late in the season.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.