Chionanthus retusus, commonly called Chinese fringetree, is native to China, Korea and Japan. As with the native U.S. species (C. virginicus), this plant is noted for its profuse spring bloom of fragrant white flowers. It is most often seen in cultivation as a large, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub growing to 10-20’ tall with a rounded, wide-spreading form. It also may be grown as a small tree (multi-trunked or trained as a single trunk), ultimately reaching up to 30-40’ tall. Terminal clusters (to 4” long) of mildly fragrant, pure white flowers with fringe-like petals bloom in late spring to early summer. Bloom appears about 2-3 weeks before that of C. virginicus. Plants are primarily dioecious (separate male and female plants), but some plants may have some perfect flowers. Male flowers are slightly showier. Female flowers (if fertilized) give way to clusters of olive-like fruits (each to 1/2”long) which ripen to a dark bluish black in late summer/fall and are a good food source for birds and wildlife. Lustrous, leathery leaves are ovate to elliptic and 4” long. Leaves on young plants have serrate margins. Leaves are bright green above and whitish-green plus downy beneath. Leaves turn yellow in fall (reportedly more attractive in northern areas). Exfoliating gray-brown bark is attractive in winter. Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Best flowering occurs in full sun. Prefers deep, moist, fertile, acidic soils. Seldom needs pruning. Tolerant of air pollution and adapts well to urban settings. Intolerant of prolonged dry conditions. Grow in groups or as specimens in lawns or in shrub or woodland borders. Also may be sited near streams or ponds.
Growing Instructions for the Chinese Fringe Tree
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted in the fall for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy. The seeds have a hard seed coat that has to be treated, or scarified, in order for water to enter the seeds so that they can sprout. 1. Scarify the seeds by nicking or sanding the seed coat. The seeds can be sanded with sandpaper, a nail file or an emery board. 2. Soak the seed in water for several hours. 3. Place the seeds in a plastic bag and seal it. Store the bag in a refrigerator for two months. 4. Fill a pot with potting soil. Use a pot that has drainage holes in the base. 5. Sow the seeds on the soil and cover them with a thin layer of soil. 6. Water the container and leave it to drain. 7. Put the pot in a warm, sunny area. 8. Water the seeds and keep the soil moist but not wet. 9. The seedlings can be transplanted when they are a few inches tall.ey are a few inches tall.