Sunday, July 21, 2024

Get It Growing: Just a tinge of fringe

by BPT Staff
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By Heather Kirk-Ballard | LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

If you’ve caught sight of those stunning, petite, white-flowered trees this spring, you’re witnessing one of the most dazzling spectacles of the season: the fringe trees. Every spring, I receive a flurry of emails, phone calls and texts from folks asking about this beautiful tree that seems to pop up out of nowhere.

The fringe tree is a deciduous, ornamental tree that is one of the earliest of the spring-blooming trees. Because flowers appear on barren limbs, they seem to appear out of nowhere. Throughout the year, you may not even take notice of this small tree. The plant gets its name from its fragrant, delicate clusters of white petals that hang gracefully. There are two varieties that can be found in the landscape: the American and the Chinese fringe trees.

As the name suggests, the Chinese fringe (Chionanthus retusus) tree is native to China, Korea and Japan. It is an easy-to-grow, very hardy tree with beautiful, leathery foliage and unique bark in addition to its white flowers in spring. It makes an excellent foundation tree planting or accent feature in the landscape. These are small-to-medium-sized trees ranging in height from 10 to 20 feet with the potential of reaching 30 to 40 feet at full maturity. They grow well in full to partial sun in most any type of soil.

The Chinese fringe tree’s lush, shiny leaves transform into a golden hue as autumn sets in. With the arrival of spring, new shoots and leaves sprout, adorning the branches with delightful, star-shaped blossoms emitting a sweet scent. The tree’s bark has captivating texture featuring corky ridges alternating between dark brown and light gray shades. Female trees bear blue-purple fruits from late September to October. Undoubtedly, it’s a tree of remarkable beauty.

The American fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), also lovingly called Grancy greybeard or old man’s beard, is a small, deciduous tree native to the eastern United States from Canada to the Gulf Coast. Once established, the fringe tree has moderate water needs and tolerates both the heat and humidity well. It also has a low flammability rating.

The American fringe tree doesn’t quite match the showiness of its Chinese cousin. Its blossoms are a bit more scattered and less consistent compared to the Chinese variety — but it makes up for it with its tough nature.

As spring arrives, this native gem unfurls its delicate, fringelike blossoms, decorating the landscape with clusters of white petals. Its lush foliage tinged with hues of vibrant green provides a verdant backdrop that complements the purity of its blooms.

The true beauty of the American fringe tree lies in its adaptability and resilience. It thrives in a variety of soil types and climates. Whether nestled along woodland borders, gracing urban streetscapes or standing proudly in suburban gardens, the American fringe tree fills its surroundings with a sense of grace and timeless beauty.

The American fringe tree is an excellent choice as a specimen plant in lawns. It also thrives as a flowering tree in native gardens. Consider planting it in clusters along a border to create a striking visual effect.

Both trees are stunning in the landscape and are great small-to-medium-sized trees that fit well in urban settings. They have very few issues, but under very dry conditions, both can be susceptible to scale insects and borers, including the emerald ash borer. However, robust trees are less vulnerable, so it’s important to give them extra attention during prolonged periods of drought.Whether you’re drawn to the delicate allure of the Chinese fringe tree or the hardy charm of its American cousin, these trees remind us of the wonderful diversity found in nature’s palette.

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