It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to as much as 10 to 11 metres (33 to 36 ft) tall, though ordinarily less. The bark is scaly, brown tinged with red. The shoots are light green, downy at first, later becoming light brown or orange. The buds are light brown, ovate, acute, 3 millimetres (0.12 in) long. The leaves are opposite, simple, ovate or oblong, 7.5 to 20 centimetres (3.0 to 7.9 in) long and 2.5 to 10 centimetres (0.98 to 3.94 in) broad, with a petiole 2 centimetres (0.79 in) long, and an entire margin; they are hairless above, and finely downy below, particularly along the veins, and turn yellow in fall. The richly-scented flowers have a pure white, deeply four-lobed corolla, the lobes thread-like, 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres (0.59 to 0.98 in) long and 3 millimetres (0.12 in) broad; they are produced in drooping axillary panicles 10 to 25 centimetres (3.9 to 9.8 in) long when the leaves are half grown, in mid- to late May in New York City, earlier in the south.
It is usually dioecious, though occasional plants bear flowers of both sexes. The fruit is an ovoid dark blue to purple drupe 1.5 to 2 centimetres (0.59 to 0.79 in) long, containing a single seed (rarely two or three), mature in late summer to mid fall.
The species name was originally cited by Linnaeus as Chionanthus virginica, treating the genus as feminine; however, under the provisions of the ICBN, the genus is correctly treated as masculine, giving the species ending as virginicus. Other English names occasionally used in the Appalachians include Grancy Gray Beard and Old Man's Beard.
Cultivation and uses
Although native in the southeastern United States, it is hardy in the north and is extensively planted in gardens, where specimens are often grown with multiple trunks. The white flowers are best seen from below. Fall color is a fine, clear yellow, a good contrast with viburnums and evergreens. It prefers a moist soil and a sheltered situation. It may be propagated by grafting on Ash (Fraxinus sp.). The wood is light brown, sapwood paler brown; heavy, hard, and close-grained.
In 2014, white fringetrees in Ohio were reported to be hosting infestations of the emerald ash borer, an insect native to Asia that has become a highly destructive invasive pest of ash trees in North America. Since then, emerald ash borer has been found in white fringetrees in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, indicating to researchers that white fringetree is being utilized by emerald ash borer throughout the range where the species overlap. Symptoms of infestation include crown dieback and epicormic sprouting.
- Literally "Virginian snowy-flower"
- "Chionanthus virginicus". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 12 January 2018.
- USDA Woody Plant Seed Manual: Chionanthus virginicus (pdf file) Archived 2007-07-26 at the Wayback Machine.
- The perfume is similar to common lilac and as strong, particularly at dawn and in the evening.
- Missouriplants: Chionanthus virginicus
- Oklahoma Biological Survey: Chionanthus virginicus
- Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
- Keeler, H. L. (1900). Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them. New York: Charles Scriber's Sons. pp. 222–224.
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Chionanthus
- Plants for a Future: Chionanthus virginicus
- Emerald Ash Borer Infestation of White Fringetree Found to be Widespread, Entomology Today, July 22, 2015.
- Peterson, Donnie L., and Don Cipollini. Distribution, Predictors, and Impacts of Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) Infestation of White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), Environmental Entomology, Volume 46, Issue 1, 1 February 2017, Pages 50–57, https://doi.org/10.1093/ee/nvw148
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