By Suzanne Wodek
Chionanthus virginicus, commonly called Fringe Tree, Grancy Graybeard and Old Man’s Beard, is a deciduous, native, small tree with a spreading, rounded habit. The genus name comes from the Greek words chion meaning “snow” and anthos meaning “flower,” for its snow-white fragrant blooms.
Fringe trees are dioecious (separate male and female plants). These trees are rarely labeled as male or female, so unless you purchase them in bloom or with fruit present, it is impossible to know which one you are getting.
A member of the Oleaceae (olive) family, the female tree will produce dark, olive-like fruits that mature in late summer and early fall. While not edible for humans, these fruits are attractive to birds. Male flowers are showier than female flowers, but both are beautiful.
Once established, they do not transplant well, so keep this in mind when you are selecting a site. The foliage will look best when the tree is grown in some shade, but flowering will be best in full sun. The ideal location is an area where it will receive sunlight most of the day and some shade during the afternoon.
Fringe trees are adaptable to a wide variety of soils, which is great for our clay or sandy soils. They also like moist or wet soils.
The white flowers are best seen from below. The fall color is a fine, clear yellow, a good contrast with viburnums and evergreens. Pollinators of the flowers include bees, and the plant hosts the larvae of several moths.
The fringe tree was commonly used by Native Americans and European settlers to treat inflammations of the eye, mouth ulcers and spongy gums. In modern herbalism, it is considered to be one of the most reliable remedies for disorders of the liver and gall bladder.
Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W. T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. To learn more, visit AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org.