White Fringetree, Old Man’s Beard, Common Fringetree, Grancy Graybeard. These are all common names for the same relatively unknown native tree, Chionanthus virginicus.
If you’ve never heard of Chionanthus virginicus you’re not alone. Even though it is native to most of the eastern US, it is not widely available in many nurseries.
I’ve been looking for a fringetree to use as a specimen tree for my woodland garden for a few years now and I can tell you it is difficult to find a decent fringetree. In my experience, if a nursery did have a fringetree, it was either very small (fringetree’s are slow growers), had a single trunk (I was looking for a multi-stemmed tree) or just looked sickly and pathetic. Yesterday, my perseverance paid off when I stumbled upon the ideal specimen.
I’ve had my heart set on a fringtree for a few reasons. I wanted a small native tree that was deer-resistant and would tolerate some shade. I also wanted it to be attractive enough to use as a focal point in my front garden (it will be the tree visitors see as they walk up to my front door) but also provide some screening from my neighbor’s driveway (the main reason I wanted multi-stem rather than single trunk). I also wanted a tree that was a bit unusual (nothing wacky but something not seen in everyone else’s garden), had multi-season interest and was also low-maintenance. As you can imagine, with such a long list of wants, the list of viable options was pretty short.
Chionanthus virginicus offers all I was looking for and more:
- While it is slow-growing, less than 12 inches per year, it will probably be about 15 feet tall and as wide at maturity. Since I will be planting my fringetree right near some overhead wires, I want to make sure it wouldn’t grow too tall and need to be frequently pruned.
- Fringetrees are considered very low maintenance. They do not need to be pruned (except for removing dead branches) and they are relatively pest-free.
- Fringetrees offer several seasons of interest. White flowers in late spring, blue berries in late summer (on female plants) and attractive yellow fall foliage.
- They tolerate air pollution so fringetrees are a good option for urban planting. Because of their small stature, they are welcome additions to patios, enclosed gardens and even parking island beds.
- Fringetrees are highly adaptable – they tolerate full sun to partial shade and a variety of soils although they do best in moist, acidic soil. They are hardy from zones 4 – 9.
- They are at home in a refined, manicured setting as well as a more natural woodland setting.
I hope I’ve helped you get to know this wonderful native tree. Just remember, good things come to those who diligently scour their local nurseries for the native plants they want. Or to say that succintly…good things come to those that wait.