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CHIONANTHUS retusus

Image of Chionanthus retusus

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Oleaceae

Botanical Name

CHIONANTHUS retusus

Plant Common Name

Chinese Fringetree

General Description

The billowing, wispy, white flower clusters of Chinese fringetree bring a magnificent touch to the spring landscape. Native to eastern China, Korea and Japan, this deciduous plant grows as a shrub naturally but can be trained as a small tree if lower branches are removed. Taking a while for new spring leaves to emerge, the bright green oval foliage has slightly lighter colored undersides that can be hairy. By mid to late spring, the new growth is topped by masses of clusters of white fragrant blossoms, with petals that are narrow and separate and slightly wider than those of the American fringetree (C. virginicus).

Plants are either male or female, with fruits forming only from female blossoms, although individual trees may have flowers of the other gender in low numbers. After pollination by bees, loose clusters of blackish blue fruits dangle from the branch ends, and are a treat for songbirds. By the start of summer, the leaves are a deeper green, and some plants may have leaves of more leather-like texture. The fall foliage is yellow, and in warmer regions, the leaves may not turn as yellow while remaining until the winter solstice. The bark is gray and exfoliating and with age the plant's bark becomes corky with furrows in gray and brown.

Grow the Chinese fringtree in full sun to partial shade in any average soil with decent drainage, regardless of pH. This is a remarkably easy-to-grow plant and is a breathtaking plant for the garden either as a mounding shrub or picturesque, aged small tree. In coldest reaches of its hardiness zone, it will grow more slowly, likely remaining in a shrub form, and in mild winter regions, expect it to be a bit faster and larger in habit. Use it as a focal plant for a corner of a building, in the mixed border, in an open wooded area, or next to a patio where its fragrance can be enjoyed from nearby.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 3

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    5 - 9

  • Sunset Zone

    3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    15'-22' / 4.6m - 6.7m

  • Width

    10'-20' / 3.0m - 6.1m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring

  • Native To

    China, Japan, Korea

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam

  • Tolerances

    Pollution, Drought

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White

  • Fruit Color

    Dark Blue, Black

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Light Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Yellow

  • Bark Color

    Brown

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Glossy

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Corky

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Foundation, Hedges, Mixed Border, Rock Garden / Wall, Topiary / Bonsai / Espalier

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    No