By Wayne Hutchins
One of the best flowering native woody plants for the piedmont and lower elevation mountains (less than 3,500 feet) is the Fringe Tree (chionanthus virginica) The distribution of this plant is found along the east coast and can take temperatures as low as minus 30ºF. This is one plant that very likely was planted at Mt. Vernon by George Washington. It is a great landscape plant that can be planted in full sun or part shade. Fringe Trees can be grown as a single trunk small tree, or a multi-stemmed large shrub. The ultimate height is about 30 feet as a single stemmed tree, lower as a multi-stemmed shrub.
The flowers are white and fragrant and hang down from the previous year’s growth in feathery clusters. Blooming time is mid to late April.
A relative of the American fringe tree is the Chinese fringe tree (chionanthus retusa) which is a beautiful small tree which flowers in my garden a week later than the American one (last week in April). The leaves are oval in shape and darker green than the American one. The flowers are white and upright and are produced on the current year’s growth. Either of these two species would make a nice addition to the home landscape used as a single plant or a grouping of plants.
Wayne Hutchins is the owner of Plants-A-Plenty Farm, a plant nursery specializing in shade-loving plants. It is located at 890 Crowe Dairy Road, Forest City, NC.