University of Florida

Chionanthus virginicus (White Fringetree)

White Fringetree

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  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3A - 9B
  • Mature Height: 12 to 20 ft
  • Mature Spread: 10 to 15 ft
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Availability: Somewhat available
  • Drought Tolerance: Moderate
  • Salt Tolerance: Poor
  • Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Native Origin: Native to Florida
  • Soil Drainage: Tolerates well-drained sites to occasionally wet sites.
  • Foliage: Deciduous tree with no showy fall color.
  • Flowers: White, very showy, fragrant flowers in the spring.
  • Pests: The main insects are scale and mites. The main diseases are leaf spots, powdery mildew and stem cankers.

Description: It is hard to think of a more beautiful, small native tree than White Fringetree when it is in full bloom. The upright oval to rounded form adds dark green color in summer and bright white flowers in spring. The pure white, slightly fragrant flowers, emerging just as the dogwood flowers fade, hang in long, spectacular panicles which appear to cover the tree with cotton for two weeks. As with other white flowered trees, they look best when viewed against a dark background. Dark green, glossy leaves emerge later in the spring than those of most plants just as the flowers are at peak bloom. This differs from Chinese Fringetree which flowers at the terminal end of the spring growth flush.

Female plants develop purple-blue fruits which are highly prized by many birds. Fall color is yellow in northern climates, but is an unnoticed brown in the south, with many leaves dropping to the ground a blackened green. The plant eventually grows 15 to 20 feet tall in the woods, spreads to 15 feet, and tolerates city conditions well. But trees are more commonly seen 10 to 15 feet tall in landscapes where they are grown in the open. It forms as a multi-stemmed round ball if left unpruned but can be trained (slowly) into a small tree with lower branches removed. Although reportedly difficult to transplant, White Fringetree can be successfully moved quite easily with proper care. It can be used beneath power lines where no pruning would be required.

Fringetree looks best in a sunny spot sheltered from wind. The foliage appears more attractive when grown with several hours of shade but the tree blooms best in full sun. Probably best overall with some afternoon shade. A North American native commonly found in upland woods and stream banks throughout most of the South, White Fringetree prefers moist, acid soil and will gladly grow in even wet soils. It grows very slowly, usually 6 to 10 inches per year, but can grow a foot per year if given rich, moist soil and plenty of fertilizer. There is only one flush of growth each year.

Gainesville Observations: Our trees were planted from a field nursery and have done very well. One flush of growth is produced each year; we have not figured out how to make this tree grow faster. It may be futile to attempt to prune this tree into one leader for a street tree since it wants to be a shrub instead of a tree. Trees flower at the same time as Chinese Fringetree (mid- to late-March). Chinese Fringetree is a larger plant and is easier to prune into a small tree.

Fact Sheet (pdf)
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