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Grandfather Graybeard

BOTANICAL NAME:  Chionanthus virginicus (​Native to the South and Eastern U.S.), Chionanthus retusa (​Native to Asia)

PRONUNCIATION:  key-oh-NAN-thus ver-JIN-eh-kus, key-oh-NAN-thus ra-TUS-ah

FAMILY:  Oleaceae (Ash Family)
TYPE:  Small deciduous to semi-evergreen tree
HEIGHT:  15 to 30 feet
SPREAD:   15 to 20 feet
FINAL SPACING: 15 to 35 feet

LOCATION:  sun or shade

NATURAL HABITAT AND PREFERRED SITE:  The native fringe tree likes the deep rich sandy acid soil conditions of east Texas and other parts of the South and East. but will grow fairly well in soil with a neutral pH such as Houston. It prefers dappled shade and is often seen growing on the edges of forests. The Asia introduction is more adapted to alkaline soils.
IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION:  A beautiful ornamental tree with slender trunks and an irregular rounded crown. Delicate, showy white flowers in the spring. 

FLOWERS AND FRUIT:  Flowers of fringe tree are spectacular. They are lacey, white, fragrant clusters that appear in the spring from March to June in delicate drooping panicles 5 to 10 inches. The flowers last for two weeks or more if a hard rain doesn’t knock them off. Both male and female flowers are beautiful but are usually on separate plants. The female plants have dark blue or purple clusters of berries or drupes that ripen late summer to fall. The fruit is eaten by many species of wildlife.
BARK:  Brown to gray, usually thin and has fine texture even as it matures. Old stems will tend to get a silvery gray color.

FOLIAGE:  Leaves are opposite, simple, about 4 to 8 inches long, 2 to 4 inches wide. They are very dark blue green above than the lighter color below with fuzz. They have a smooth margin. The base is a distinctive purple color. Fall color is clear yellow.
CULTURE:  Native fringe tree is only adapted to sandy, acid soils like that in east Texas and will not adapt to the alkaline soils well at all. It likes moist soil and relatively high fertility. The Chinese variety (C. retusa) is not particular about soil type.

PROBLEMS:  Pest problems are minimal. Few if any problems if the tree is planted in the proper locations. Occasionally has spider mites due to stress. This tree is in the Oleaceae plant family, same as the Ash, and may be an alternate host to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).
PROPAGATION:  Natural germination of the fringe tree happens the second spring following the seed fall. Collect the fruits from July to September after they have turned purple but before they have fallen from the tree. Clean the seeds of pulp and keep in cold, moist storage until planting. Seedlings require light shade until well established. Fringe tree can also be propagated by cuttings, layering, grafting and budding, however, it is slow to root from cuttings. Stratification at 41 degrees in sand or peat for a year is recommended before spring planting.
INSIGHT:  The fringe tree is considered deciduous but the leaves are persistent in the winter in the Gulf coast area. In most of the state the foliage turns a bright clear yellow and falls after the first hard frost.


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