The fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) takes the form of a small tree or a large shrub and is a flowering species. The fringe tree is native to the southeastern portion of the United States and has a reputation for possessing a sweet aroma and showy flowers, making it a valued ornamental. Fringe tree has the nicknames of “old man’s beard” and “Grancy Greybeard,” a reference to its appearance when in bloom.
The fringe tree can be as small as 12 feet high but can grow to heights around 20 feet. The tree has a spread that is equivalent to its height, says the University of Connecticut Plant Database. The fringe tree’s leaves range between 3 and 8 inches in length and from 1.5 to 3 inches in width. The clusters of flowers can grow as long as 8 inches and the fruit that develops from them is as long as an eighth of an inch.
The fringe tree features male and female trees, with the flowers that emerge on the male trees being a bit flashier than those on the female tree. The flowers are white with very narrow petals that give them the appearance of pom-poms from a distance. The way the flowers hang down often look like a white beard, hence the nicknames "old man's beard." The clusters are loose and bloom around the same time the tree’s leaves come in. Fringe trees blossom by the end of May and into the first weeks of June. The fragrance is sweet but the smell will not overpower the senses, according to the Floridata website.
The natural range of the fringe tree extends south from southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey to the middle of the Florida peninsula. The fringe tree grows as far west as eastern Oklahoma and Texas. The tree exists in parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio. Fringe trees grow in nearly all of Maryland, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama.
Plant your fringe tree in a spot that is in full sun to partial shade, keeping in mind that it can grow in the shade produced by larger nearby trees. The soil should be damp but well draining. The fringe tree is able to adapt to dry conditions if need be, and once your fringe tree has begun to take hold it will not require much maintenance. This tree will develop from seeds or from cuttings. It is best to plant it where you want to keep it since it can be hard to transplant in some cases.
The uses for a fringe tree are many, especially in urban settings because the tree will tolerate poor air quality. The fringe tree makes an excellent specimen tree set apart by itself but also makes a great shrub border plant. Many landscapers plant fringe trees in groups. The tree will draw birds to your property, as they will eat the bluish-black fruit that develops during the late summer. The fringe tree grows slowly, and you cannot tell what sex the tree will be when growing it from seed.