The genus has a wide distribution primarily in the tropics and subtropics, but with two species extending north into temperate regions, one (C. retusus) in eastern Asia and one (C. virginicus) in eastern North America. Most of the tropical species are evergreen, while the two temperate species are deciduous; some botanists restrict Chionanthus to the two deciduous, temperate species, treating the evergreen species in a separate genus Linociera, but apart from leaf persistence, there is no other consistent difference between them (Flora of China).
They are shrubs and small to medium-sized trees growing to 3-25 m tall. The leaves are opposite, simple. The flowers are produced in feathery panicles, with a corolla subdivided into four slender lobes; they are white, pale yellow, or tinged pink. The fruit is a drupe containing a single seed.Selected species: