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What is a Fringe Tree?

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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2016
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Fringe tree, scientific name Chionanthus virginicus, is a deciduous species of small tree or shrub in the Oleaceae, or olive, family. This tree is native to the southeastern U.S. and west to Oklahoma and Texas. These trees rarely grow more than 6 inches in one season. Native Americans used the tree's dried roots and bark medicinally.

The tree is also known as Grancy gray-beard, poison ash, snowdrop tree, snowflower, and old man's beard. It grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones three through nine, which means that the lowest temperature the tree will tolerate is -35° Fahrenheit (-37.2° Celsius). Fringe trees prefer light shade to full sun. Trees planted in full sun tend to have a greater number of blooms. Although the trees prefer moist, well-drained soil with a very acidic to strongly acidic pH level, they can tolerate some drought conditions.

This multi-stemmed tree ranges from 12 to 20 feet (3.7-6 m) in both height and width. The fringe tree produces fragrant, pure white blooms with fringe-like petals from May to June. The flowers grow in panicles, or clusters, that are 4 to 10 inches (10-25 cm) long. Its foliage is 3 to 8 inches (7.5-20 cm) long and 1 to 4 inches (2.5-10 cm) wide. In the fall, leaves turn yellow and the tree produces dark blue fruit that attracts birds.

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The fringe tree makes an attractive addition to landscaping. These trees can be propagated by grafting to an ash tree, but most of these trees are grown from seed because grafting is not always successful. When planted from seed it takes the fringe tree about two years to germinate. Most commercial nurseries will not take the time to propagate these trees. Gardeners who want to grow a fringe tree must be careful that other fast-growing plants located nearby do not crowd it out.

With the exception of scale and mites, the fringe tree is resistant to pests. It can develop leaf spot, stem canker, or powdery mildew diseases. Gardeners can get rid of the pests with an insecticidal soap made for use on this type of tree. To eradicate powdery mildew and other diseases, all infected branches should be pruned. The tree should be watered in the morning so that it has a chance to dry out during the day. In addition, the likelihood of fungal growth is decreased when the tree is planted in full sun in a location that has plenty of air circulation.

The Choctaw Indians used the tree's dried bark and roots as a treatment for inflammation. Tribes boiled the bark and roots. Following this, the roots and bark were ground up and made into a paste, which was applied to skin sores or wounds as a poultice. A liquid tincture was taken to treat gallbladder and liver problems. Today's herbalists use the fringe tree in much the same way as the Choctaw did.

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