We asked our friends at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to spotlight something fascinating from the ground up. Lynn Jackson Kirk tells us about a bearded beauty.

Fringe tree

Uncommon and uncommonly beautiful, the fringe tree is one of RVA’s best-kept secrets. Nicknamed “old man’s beard” (as well as “grancy graybeard” and “grandsie graybeard”), the fringe tree offers midspring blooms that resemble long, white, wispy beards. We might overlook its charm amid a dogwood’s earlier springtime show, but the fringe tree is a lovely encore.

A proper name: The botanical name for this gem is Chionanthus virginicus. Chionanthus comes from two Greek words meaning “snow flowers,” while virginicus translates “of Virginia.”

Sized up: A mature fringe tree grows 12 to 20 feet high and has a similar spread; the slow grower’s multiple stems add to its charm. But the fringe tree is considered an underused plant, in part because few promote and plant native trees.

Battle of the sexes: Every fringe tree is either male or female – though most nurseries don’t tag them as such, so purchases involve guesswork. The male tree boasts larger, showier blooms. The female develops green drupes (fruit) that darken to a dusty blue when ripe – but only if a male is present for pollination.

Eco-support: The tree’s blossoms attract pollinators, while its drupes appeal to birds.

Dear to deer: If you love the fringe tree, just remember: Deer do, too! You might need protective measures in rural areas.

Evolving uses: Native Americans used the tree’s bark, root and oil in various forms and combinations to treat ailments such as jaundice and skin infections. Today, the fringe tree is admired as an ornamental – one that is especially striking when backed by evergreens.

Tried and true: The fringe tree is adaptable and basically trouble-free. Consider it a beauty without the fuss!

(In the remainder of April and into May, you’ll discover fringe trees starting to bloom across Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. For more about this and other native plants, visit lewisginter.org and click on “What’s In Bloom.”)

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