Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Also known as White Fringetree or Old Man’s Beard, this tree is happy in Zones 3A through 9B. The Fringetree grows almost anywhere in the United States except in southern Florida. Its native range is from Pennsylvania all the way down to Florida. This tree has a spreading, open habit with a slow to medium growth rate. It will become 12 to 20 feet tall and spread out at about 10 to 15 feet. The Fringetree is often grown with multiple trunks though I prefer its look when it is trained to grow with a single trunk.
The Fringetree is going to be one of the latest plants to produce leaves in the spring. The dark green leaves are thick and waxy growing 5 to 9 inches long. Fall color is yellow in the north, but is an unexciting brown in the south where many leaves (drop)to the ground with blackened green color. The bark is thin and is easily damaged by lawn mowers or string trimmers. The bark has been used as the source of a tonic said to be a diuretic and a fever reducer.
This tree does not begin to produce blossoms for 3 to 5 years, so you must be a bit patient, but the wait is definitely worth it. Similar to the Holly family, Fringetrees come as separate male and female trees. It will bloom just after the Dogwood is about finished in May into June. Both male and the female have hanging long, spectacular white panicles giving you the impression that the tree has been covered in white cotton bolls. The male ones may be slightly longer and more showy. It is necessary to have both for the female trees to produce their inconspicuous black fruits which attract birds. To be sure of their sex, purchase young plants in flower. Ovate, 3/4 inch long, dark blue to nearly black with a fleshy pulp that encloses a large, stone seed. Maturing September to October.