Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Herb of the Week: Fringe Tree

Chionanthus virginicus
Fringe Tree, Old Man's Beard, White Fringe Tree

Chionanthus virginicus, Fringe tree
The Fringe Tree is thought by some to be one of the prettiest trees native to North America. In late spring this small tree is covered in white blossoms that have long dangling petals - its "fringe." Hardy to zone 5, the fringe tree's native range is the south-eastern US from NY to Florida and as far west as Texas. This pest-free tree will grow in full-sun or partial shade. The attractive leaves are ovate and yellow in the fall. The fringe tree is dioecious and the female plants produce purple drupes that resemble olives.

Over the years I have added many native plants to my gardens and landscaping. Even more so when they offer up both beauty and herbal use like the fringe tree. Six to eight years ago, I added a tiny little foot tall fringe tree seedling. It barely grew the first couple of years, often coming back so slowly in the spring I doubted it made the winter. While its growth has been slow in my cold and moist climate at the edge of its northern range, over the last couple of years it has finally put on some size and extra branches. This spring, after the coldest and hardest winter in decades, it gifted me with blossoms - the first since I planted it. (See picture above.) While I only have one cluster of flowers this year, I look forward to even more in future years!

The fringe tree -- like so many native plants -- were originally part of various Native people's medicine traditions which were later adopted by white herbalists and healers into their own herbal practices. Traditionally the fringe tree root bark has been used for liver and gall bladder disorders as well as wounds and rheumatism. For more on fringe tree's uses, see PFAF's entry on it or Peterson's Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants by Foster & Duke.

Learn more:

Looking to add this tree to your place? Try Forest Farm like I did.