Introduced into cultivation in 1736, fringe-tree is considered by many horticulturists to be one of the finest North American specimen trees but it also functions well when planted in groups. Primarily enjoyed for its abundant spring bloom, it is also desired for its fall display of fruit and value in attracting wildlife.
Propagation of Chionanthus virginicus from seeds requires patience since they possess a double dormancy. A warm period of 3-5 months at room temperature allows production of a root unit, while the shoot remains dormant; a cold treatment of 41°F for one or more months overcomes shoot dormancy. If seeds are sown outdoors in fall, germination takes place in the second spring.
The lack of available cultivars can be attributed to the difficulty in propagating this plant from cuttings. This difficulty in asexual propagation may be attributed to the plants early loss of juvenility. Plant sex can only be determined after flowering, which may happen within as few as three years in cultivated plants. Cultivars based on plant sex or other important ornamental features are not available.
Fringe-tree can grow in a variety of environments both in and out of its natural range and reportedly performs well in USDA zones 3-9. It prefers a sunny location and deep acid soils but can tolerate a range of soil conditions. It should be transplanted balled and burlapped. While it has a reputation for being difficult to transplant among some growers, others maintain that it can be planted without problems. Plants need little pruning once established, and they are remarkably free from pests and diseases.
Traditionally, a tonic was produced from the bark, and it was used as a diuretic and to reduce fevers. While the wood is hard, close grained, and moderately heavy it was never used commercially.
Where to See C. virginicus
Fringe-tree grows commonly along stream drainages, near swamps, and in drier upland woods in sandy to deep rich soils in most counties in Virginia. Chionanthus virginicus in its native range grows from New Jersey south to Florida and west to Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Gardeners should be certain that fringe-tree and other native plants purchased for home gardens are nursery propagated, not wild collected. For a list of retail sources of nursery propagated plants and responsibly collected seed, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to:
Virginia Native Plant Society P.O. Box 844 Annandale, VA 22003