Wednesday, May 4, 2016

White Fringetree - Grancy Graybeard

White Fringetree - Grancy Graybeard 

     White Fringetree, often times just called Fringetree (Chionanthus virginica), is usually a short multi-stemmed shrub, but occasionally can grow as a single trunk small tree (up to 30'). Often planted for its fragrant floral displays, the drooping white flowers also give it the names of Old Man's Beard and Grancy Graybeard in the South. It's Genus name translates to "snow flower" and refers again to the grande floral display it often gives.
     The flowers themselves consist of 4 white petals that droop and are often slightly twisted. They hang in large numbers, with male and female flowers almost always on separate trees. Their fragrance along with their massed flowers makes them standout. They are in peak bloom right about now.

     If the flowers get pollinated, the female trees produce large blue to black fruits. These are technically called drupes and consist of a thin, but juicy, flesh around a fairly large stone. They look a bit like olives, which makes sense as they are in the Olive Family (Oleaceae). Although not poisonous, accounts vary as to whether they really are edible.

     Fringetrees have been used medicinally by indigenous tribes. The Choctaw for example made a decoction from the bark that could be used to wash wounds, cuts and bruises. It could be applied as a poultice and was used to wash sores as well. The Koasati people also found the bark useful for cleaning cuts.
     During the Civil War, Confederate Doctor Francis Porcher, tasked with finding home grown alternatives to goods no longer available due to Union blockades, described using Fringetree to treat fevers, cuts, wounds, and ulcers. It has also been used as a folk remedy for liver and gall baldder issues. 
     One of the last trees to leaf out, it remains a popular landscape shrub, and has been since first cultivated in 1736. While male trees are considered showier, female trees produce the decorative fruits. Both are extremely fragrant. Eight different caterpillar species feed on it.  


  1. What interesting information you post. I'm exploring plants for my property in McLean so I find what you have to say very informative since I'm a California naturalist/gardner. I'll have to see if these fruits are of interest to the birds. Although with all those caterpillars, I guess the birds are interested in the trees anyway!

  2. Thank you for this information. My mother, deceased 16 yrs ago at age 91 spoke of these and I looked for them while she was alive. This is the first I have been able to find. Thank you so much.