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  Photos © Kim Hosen; Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area, Nokesville VA; August 2008
Text by: Kristen Hughes

Chionanthus virginicus
Olive family, Oleaceae

Chionanthus virginicus, more commonly known as the Fringe tree, is a small deciduous tree native to the eastern United States. Chionanthus means snow flower, which describes the white fringe-like petal flowers that bloom on male Fringe trees in May and June. In late summer, female blossoms produce clusters (or drupes) of bluish-black grape-sized fruit. Fringe tree fruit attracts and serves as a food source for wildlife, specifically birds. 75 different species of birds eat Fringe Tree fruit, including thrashers, bluebirds, vireos, and finches.

The Fringe tree ranges in height from 12 to 20 feet with a similar span in width, and it prefers partial to full sun and moist, fertile, acidic soil. It is usually found growing near stream beds or on damp, wooded hillsides, but the Fringe tree is adaptable to other settings, too. Since it is tolerant of air pollution, the Fringe Tree does well in city park and garden settings.

Fringe tree bark has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. Native Americans and early European settlers boiled the bark into a tea from which they made a topical treatment for skin irritations, cuts and infections. Modern herbalists use Fringe tree root bark to treat gall bladder and liver issues, such as jaundice.