Underutilized Trees for Urban Use: Chinese Fringe Tree

Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus) foliage is darker, glossier, rounder, and more leathery than native fringe tree (C. virginicus) foliage, and its flower petals have rounded ends and appear less feathery than those of the native tree. Photo by Bill Haws

There’s some disagreement about the true native (vs. naturalized) range of white fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus. Although it appears to be indigenous to the Southeast U.S. at least, the potential planting range of this small tree, hardy to USDA Zone 3, is the entire continental U.S. Unfortunately, white fringe tree has been found to be quite vulnerable to Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) like its Oleaceae family cousins, ash trees.

Young Chinese fringe tree habit and showy bloom. Chinese fringe tree can be grown as a standard in tree form, with a mature height and width range of 15 to 25 feet. Photo by Bill Haws

Interestingly, Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusus) has not been found to be vulnerable to EAB. It’s thought that since C. retusus co-evolved with EAB, this Asian iteration of fringe tree built up defenses to the beetle over millennia in its native eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea.

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