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Chionanthus retusus
Chionanthus retusus

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Zone
Zones vary by species.
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Chionanthus

Fringe Tree
Oleaceae
Deciduous, Shrubs, Trees

Spectacular flowering plants requiring some winter chill. The common name (Fringe Tree) refers to narrow, fringelike white petals on flowers that are borne in impressive, ample, lacy clusters. Male and female plants are separate; males have larger flowers. If both plants are present, females produce clusters of small, dark, olivelike fruit favored by birds. Broad leaves turn bright to deep yellow in fall. Good drainage required. Minimal pruning needed. Resist most pests and diseases, though fungal leaf spot and powdery mildew may occur.

Chionanthus retusus
Chionanthus retusus

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Chionanthus retusus

Native to China and Taiwan. Grows to about 20 ft. tall, not quite as wide spreading as Chionanthus virginicus. Usually seen as a big multistemmed shrub but can be trained as a small tree. Leaves are 2–4 in. long. Pure white blossom clusters to 4 in. long appear in late spring or early summer. A magnificent plant when in bloom, something like a tremendous white lilac. Handsome gray-brown bark (sometimes golden on young stems) provides winter interest.

Chionanthus virginicus (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Chionanthus virginicus (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Chionanthus virginicus

Native to the southeastern U.S. Leaves and flower clusters are often twice as big as those of Chionanthus retusus. Lightly fragrant, greenish white flowers appear by the plant’s third year. Can reach 30 ft. tall, but in gardens usually grows to 12–20 ft. high with equal spread. Habit varies from very shrubby and open to more treelike. In Zones 2–6, where it grows very slowly (the most you can hope for is 12 ft. in 10 years), it is best used as an airy shrub; blooms profusely when just 2–3 ft. tall. In those zones, it is one of the last deciduous plants to leaf out in spring.

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