Chionanthus virginicus L.

White Fringetree, Grancy Gray-beard, Old-man’s Beard




Family: Oleaceae

Genus: Chionanthus

Category: Tree - Deciduous

Zones: 4 to 9

Size: 12 to 20' tall and wide

Growth Rate: Slow

Exposure: Sun, Filtered Sun, Part Shade


Prefers moist, deep, acid soil, but well-drained. Late to leaf in spring. White fringe-like flowers in spring lasting up to 6 weeks, followed by leaves. Mildly fragrant. Can be a multi-trunked small tree. Rounded crown. Best flowering in full sun. Fertilize in early spring with a complete fertilizer such as 16-4-8. Prune after flowering.

For information and photos to distinguish virginicus and retusus virginicus and retusus.

Flowers on C. virginicus are pendant, whereas those of C. retusus are upright.


Native to eastern and central US, including South Carolina and Georgia.

Introduced in 1736 to England by John Bartram to Peter Collinson.

RHS Award of merit in 1931.

Georgia Gold Medal Native Plant 2011.

First published in Sp. Pl. 1: 8 in 1753. Linnaeus refers to Catesby's Natural History Volume 1 Plate 68.


My Experience: 

I purchased a 1-gallon plant from Piccadilly Farm in May 2007. It was labeled "Chionanthus" but based on leaf shape and size I determined it to be virginicus not retusus. I potted it up until planting in the front garden in summer 2009. In the pot it bloomed the second spring (2009). In the garden it did not bloom at all in spring 2010. The foliage was burned by the sun in the summer both years and the plant did not gain in size. Finally bloomed in late April 2011, as the leaves were flushing and held up much better in summer 2011. Possibly because it was no longer being hand-watered but 'sprinkled'. I moved it in spring 2013 because I did not perform well and was taking valuable space. It did not recover from the move.

Sources of Information

© 2010-12 Lisa J. Miner