Shrub of the Month: Chionanthus virginicus, white fringetree
Posted: November 8, 2012
Although Chionanthus virginicus is known for its white fragrant flowers, some specimens show an intense bright yellow in the fall months.
It is hard to place white fringetree in a category. Although the common name alludes to a tree, it is often treated as a large shrub in the landscape reaching a range of 12 to 20 feet. No doubt it is a tree in its native habitat (New Jersey to Florida) as it can grow up to thirty feet in height. Fringetree’s most valuable asset is its spring floral display. For a few weeks in June, white fragrant flowers seem to drip from the emerging leaves.
Fringetree is usually not at the top of the list when one thinks of shrubs with attractive fall color. According to Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, leaf color is a “yellow-green-brown”, not exactly a ringing endorsement for colorful fall foliage. But fall color seems to vary considerably. I have seen some fringetrees in October that are an intense bright yellow, while others have that less impressive yellow-green-brown look. Perhaps this points to an opportunity for propagators to start selecting C. virginicus for fall color.
Site selection is a bit critical compared to some of our other ornamental shrubs. Tight, clay soils should be avoided and optimal growth occurs in soils that are slightly acidic. Although C. virginicus can grow in shade, it will be leggy and produce few flowers. Select a sunny spot to obtain the best growth and plentiful flowers.