Chionanthus virginicus

Chionanthus virginicus

Chionanthus virginicus (White Fringetree) is a tree native to the eastern United States, from New Jersey south to Florida, and west to Oklahoma and Texas.

It is a deciduous shrub or small tree growing to as much as 10–11 m 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 mm long. The leaves are opposite, simple, ovate or oblong, 7.5–20 cm long and 2.5–10 cm broad, with a petiole 2 cm 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, 1.5–2.5 cm long and 3 mm broad; they are produced in drooping axillary panicles 10–25 cm 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 1.5–2 cm 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 of the south United States it is hardy in the north and is extensively planted in gardens, where the best specimens are grown on multiple trunks. The 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 and may be propagated by grafting on the ash. The wood is light brown, sapwood paler brown; heavy, hard, close-grained.

Medicinal uses

The dried roots and bark were used by Native Americans to treat skin inflammations. It has also been used to treat liver problems and gall-bladder inflammation. There is some evidence that it reduces sugar levels in urine. The crushed bark can be used in treatment of sores and wounds.


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