Hubert P. Conlon is a University of Tennessee area extension specialist in ornamental horticulture. He gardens in Johnson City. He can be reached at


Chinese Fringe Tree
by Hubert P. Conlon - posted 05/04/12

Chinese fringe tree blooms in spring. Photo courtesy of Hubert P. Conlon.

Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus) is a small deciduous tree or large shrub native to China, Korea and Japan. Do not confuse fringe tree with Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense) or our own native fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) which grows very shrub-like, and is fragrant.

Lustrous, dark green, oval-shaped leaves emerge one to two weeks before flowering begins. In early May, the tree is totally covered with 3- to 4-inch wide panicles of white, fleecy flowers. The billowy clusters appear on the ends of branches and cover most leaves. The scent from the sweetly fragrant flowers permeates the garden in the early evening. Spring and summer foliage has a thick, leathery feel. In autumn, leaves turn pale yellow before dropping in mid to late November.

Small, half-inch long, dark blue drupe fruits ripen on female plants in September. Disease and insect problems are few.


Fall fruit and foliage on a female Chinese fringe tree.
Photo courtesy of Hubert P. Conlon.

Photo courtesy of C. Dwayne Jones.

Common Name: Chinese fringe tree

Botanical name: Chionanthus retusus

Varieties/cultivars: ‘China Snow’ (a Don Shadow selection); ‘Tokyo Tower’ (columnar form)

Color: Clear, white, fragrant flowers in April and May

Type: Small flowering tree

Zones: 3–9

Size: 20 to 30 feet tall and 20 to 25 feet wide

Exposure: Full to partial sunlight (six hours minimum sunlight)

When to Plant: Balled and burlapped (B&B) in winter through early spring; container-grown anytime

Soil: Any well-drained soil type; best in a slightly acidic soil

Watering: Good heat and moderate drought tolerance once established in two years.

When to Prune: Minimal pruning to remove root suckers (if any); prune in almost any season.

When to Fertilize: Feed a young tree in late winter with 10-10-10 or equivalent fertilizer.

In Your Landscape: An outstanding white, flowering, small tree; perhaps a substitute for lilacs, which perform poorly in Southern landscapes.


(From Tennessee Gardener Volume XII Issue IV.)


RSS | Print

Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter