These spectacular flowering plants get their common name from the narrow, fringelike white petals on flowers that are borne in impressive, ample, lacy clusters. Male and female plants are separate; males have larger flowers. If both plants are present, females produce showy clusters of -in., blue-black, olivelike fruit that is favored by birds. Broad leaves turn bright to deep yellow in fall. Give good drainage. Minimal pruning needed. Requires some winter chill.
C. retusus. CHINESE FRINGE TREE. From China. To about 20 ft. tall, not quite as wide spreading as C. virginicus. Usually seen as a big, multistemmed shrub but can be trained as a small tree. Leaves 24 in. long. Pure white, fragrant blossoms in clusters to 4 in. long appear in late spring or early summer, 2 to 3 weeks before C. virginicus comes into flower. A magnificent plant when in bloom, something like a tremendous white lilac (Syringa). Handsome gray-brown bark (sometimes golden on young stems) provides winter interest.
C. virginicus. FRINGE TREE, GRANCY GRAYBEARD. Native to southeastern U.S. Leaves and flower clusters often twice as big as those of C. retusus; blooms appear a few weeks later. Lightly fragrant, greenish white flowers. Can reach 30 ft. tall, but in gardens usually grows 1220 ft. high with equal spread. Habit varies from very shrubby and open to more treelike. Grows more slowly in the Upper South, where young plants can be used as shrubs for a number of years. In that zone, it's one of the last deciduous plants to leaf out in spring.