white fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Grancy gray beard
Chionanthus virginicus L. var. maritimus Pursh
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for fringe tree is
Chionanthus virginicus L.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: White fringe tree
is a native, slow growing, deciduous shrub or small tree growing to as
much as 25 tall (though ordinarily less). It has an oblong/oval to round,
moderately dense crown with a spread of 10 to 15 feet; the canopy is sym-
metrical with a regular (or smooth) outline, and individuals have more or
less identical crown forms. It has one to a multiple number of short trunks.
The bark is thin, scaly, dark gray-brown tinged with red, becoming some-
what furrowed with reddish scales. The twigs are moderately stout, ashy-
gray in color, smooth or downy, with scatterd warty lenticels. There is a
large, brown (later becoming light brown or orange), broadly conical/ovate,
acute terminal bud and about 3 mm long. The leaf scar has one bundle scar.
The leaves are opposite (sometimes partially opposite), whorled, simple,
ovate or oblong to elliptical, 4 to 8 inches long and 2.5–10 cm broad, with a
petiole 2 cm long, and an entire margin. The leaves are pinnately-veined in
shape with a netted pattern, an entire margin, somewhat thickened, hair-
less above, and finely downy below, particularly along the veins, green
above and paler below, turning yellow in fall (Fall color is yellow in north-
ern climates, but is an unnoticed brown in the south, with many leaves
dropping to the ground a blackened green). The richly-scented, dioecious
(though occasional plants bear flowers of both sexes) flowers have a pure
white, deeply four-lobed corolla, the lobes thread-like, 1.5–2.5 cm long and
3 mm broad; they are produced in drooping axillary panicles 10–25 cm
long when the leaves are half grown. Panicles resemble a long white beard.
The fruit is an ovoid drupe, 3/4 inch long, dark blue/purple to nearly black
with a fleshy pulp that encloses a large, stone seed (rarely containing two
or three), and ripens in late summer to mid fall.
REGENERATION PROCESSES: White fringe tree propogates itself
by reseeding. Plants first produce seeds at 5 to 8 years of age. Natural
germination usually occurs in the second spring after seedfall, the results
of an apparent double dormancy or combined dormancy in the seeds.
Fringe tree seeds first need a period of warm temperatures, commonly
3 to 5 months, during which the radicle develops while the shoot remains
dormant. Subsequently, cold exposure during winter overcomes the shoot
dormancy. In the wild, these temperature exposures occur during the first
summer and second winter after seedfall. Even though germination was
about 40%, fringe tree is a consistent producer of seeds. Seeds are dis-
persed beyond the immediate vicinity of the tree by birds and rodents.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: White fringe tree is a native shrub
or tree commonly found in upland woods and stream banks throughout
most of the South. Fringetree prefers moist, fertile and generally acidic
soils and, although it does best in well-drained situations, it will easily grow
in average, medium, and even wet soils. It is tolerant of clay, loamy, sandy
soils and has a moderate tolerance to drought although it will ont tolerate
prolonged dry conditions. It prefers sun to partial shade and does will in
the filtered shade under large trees. It also is tolerant of air pollution and
adapts well to urban settings.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Information concerning the successional
status of white fringe tree is not readily available at this time. Field
observations indicate that fringe tree does well in riparian situations in a
broad range of circumstances, although its attrition rate may be high and
it is not a dominant species in its nataural settings and range. It does sur-
vive in mature, mixed forests due to its ability to grow in partial shade and
under the canopy of larger, more dominant species.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Blooming time is generally from May
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: White fringe tree is primarily found
in the eastern and southeastern Atlantic and Gulf states as far west as
Texas. It ranges from Florida in the south to southern New England where
is sporadicalloy occurs in Massachuestts. It is generally found east of the
Mississipp/Ohio River region.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: White fringe
tree most often occurs in rich, moist woods and hillsides, moist stream
banks, coves, lower slopes, limestone glade margins and rocky bluffs and
ledges. It is most abundant in the understory of pine-hardwood forests,
especially on moist, acid, sandy loam soils. It develops best in semi-open
situations but is moderately shade-tolerant, being found occasionally in
dense understories. Though widely distributed, it usually is a minor part
of the total vegetation.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Fringetree is attractive to a variety of in-
sects while in bloom, and to birds and small mammals when fruiting. In
particular, female plants, with their purple-blue fruits, are highly prized
by many birds. Twigs and foliage are preferred browse for deer in the
Gulf Coastal Plain but are less preferred in the Piedmont and mountains.
Browsing is least in winter. The datelike fruits are taken by many animals,
including deer, turkey, and quail while cattle may eat the foliage.
Fringetrees are planted as ornamentals (the date of earliest known cultiva-
tion is 1736 ) throughout the South and elsewhere beyond their natural
range. They are often grown in groups or as specimens in lawns or in shrub
or woodland borders. Also may be used in native plant gardens or near
streams or ponds. Fringetree is considered by many to be one of the most
beautiful flowering trees around.
The dried roots and bark were used by Native Americans to treat skin
inflammations; in Appalachia, a liquid of boiled root bark is applied to skin
irritations. It has also been used to treat liver problems and gall-bladder
inflammation. There is some evidence that it reduces sugar levels in urine.
The crushed bark can be used in treatment of sores and wounds and when
the bark is used as a tonic is said to be a diuretic and a fever reducer, as
well as being astringent.
Crooked Run Valley