The Lovely Season of White Fringetree

Published on

White Fringetree


White fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is one of our loveliest native spring-flowering trees. One of us (Chatfield) earned eternal cred with Summit County farmer John Graf decades ago, when as a new Extension Agent he was able to identify a blooming male fringetree wafting floral aromas a quarter mile across one of John’s productive muck fields of sweet corn and other vegetables. It is that special, such an elegant fragrance.   


White fringetree in bloom
Ah, springtime!  White fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) in bloom


White fringetree
White fringetree outside the Orrville library several years ago 


Native range of white fringetree
Native range of Chionanthus virginicus


Scott started this bygl-alert aborning as white fringetrees reached their peak in his Upper Arlington neighborhood in central Ohio last week; now these small trees are at their peak in Doylestown in northeast Ohio. Fleecy white petals in drooping panicles create a cloudlike effect en masse, there are glossy green leaves, and attractive blue egg-shaped fruits if you plant both male and female fringetrees near and dear to each other. 


White fringetree
White fringetree in central Ohio


White fringetree foliage
The foliage of white fringetree


White fringetree foliage
White fringetree foliage and developing fruits


White fringetree fruits
White fringetree fruits


Pollution-tolerant, fairly pH-adaptable, relatively slow-growing, our native fringetree is a true delight. Grow as a multi-stemmed plant or train to a single stem. Chionanthus is in the olive family (Oleaceae), closely related to ash (Fraxinus) and is the other genus in which emerald ash borer (EAB) insects may be found, though this pest does not appear to be serious on fringetrees.


White fringetree
The white fringetree


The small olive-like fruits have been brined by the foodie-preneurish Mark Hoenigman and are quite tasty, though with some bitterness appropriately redolent of olives. There are anywhere from 60-150 species in the genus, mostly from tropical and semi-tropical habitats, with three from temperate areas. One other temperate species is the Chinese fringetree, Chionanthus retusus, commonly planted in arboreta and in many gardens. There are numerous cultivars of both the native and Chinese fringetree now in the trade.


White fringetree fruits
Olive-like white fringetree fruits image, taken years earlier at Holden Arboretum


Fall color of white fringetree
Fall color of white fringetree


White fringetrees
Chinese fringetrees (Chionanthus retusus) at Gerlaugh Hall at the OSU-Wooster Campus. I never noticed these before this year.


White fringetree reflections
Chinese fringetree reflections: no people around on an OSU-Wooster evening, but here is a lovely reflection of before and aafter our current isolation


Final Note: For those of you born centuries ago, you may remember that the Latin binomial, as coined by Linnaeus himself, was Chionanthus virginica, with a female gender ending, but according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN) it is modernly classified in the masculine gender. This is odoriferously apropos since oddly, male flowers emit a more delightful bouquet than female Chionanthus flowers. So, Chionanthus virginicus it is.   


White fringetrees and child in Concord Massachusetts
From an earlier time, when travel was common: Niece and white fringetree flowers falling in Concord Massachusetts


White fringetree and UUC in Concrod, MA
White fringetrees outside the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord , Massachusetts