Plant of the Week - White Fringe Tree

Published on


Each spring I am mesmerized by the white blooms of the white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) outside my office at the Toledo Botanical Garden. This large shrub, or small tree, has a spreading habit. The plant is currently in its flowering glory in NW Ohio, capturing the attention of the Garden visitors wondering what it is. The white, slightly fragrant flowers are born in panicles that hang downward with a very soft and delicant appearance to them. 


As the photo below clearly illustrates, the flowers are borne on old or the previous year's wood. The flowers are behind this year's new vegetative growth and ultimately will be a place for future flower buds for next spring as the season progresses.


White Fringetree Flowers and This Year's Newly Expanded Leaves
Photo Credit: Amy Stone, OSU Extension, Lucas County 


As the white flowers fade and spring turns into summer, the dark blue egg-shaped drupe will begin to appear. While often hidden behind the plant's green leaves, the birds will seek them out, as will curious gardeners and landscape professionals. Stay tuned for a future BYGL Alert as the fruit ripens. 


White Fringetree in Flower
Photo Credit: Amy Stone, OSU Extension, Lucas County 


This plant prefers a well drained, but moist planting location. Sounds delightful - isn't that what you would want if you were a plant? While it is quite adaptable, its preference is a slightly acidic soil. The plant at my office is in full sun and doing quite well. but it can handle a part-sun/shade location as well. When in flower, I feel the plant shouts out 'specimen', but it could also be outstanding as a mass planting.


It is later to show any growth in the spring, which this year, with the snows, freezes and frosts, it is a good thing. I mention this because some people get concerned when there isn't a lot of action early in the spring. Be patient and wait - the benefits will soon follow. 


The plant's leaves are opposite, or could be termed subopposite. They are simple, narrow and long. Fall color can range from a yellowish green-brown to a bright golden yellow as described by Michael Dirr in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. 


The white fringetree is in the family Oleaceae, just like lilac, privet and ash. You may remember that Dr. D. Cipollini from Wright State University found emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) infesting white fringetree and conducted research on EAB and this host. If you are interested in learning more about this plant and insect interaction, check out an article in Environmental Entomology, "The Fate of Ornamental White Fringetree Through the Invasion Wave of Emerald Ash Borer and Implications for Novel Host Use by This Beetle" published in March of 2020: