Fringe Tree

1. Q: Can you give me some information regarding the fringe tree, Loropetalum?

I am confused by your scientific name Loropetalum and your plant name fringe tree. The Loropetalum such as Hines Nurseries "Plum Delight" has burgundy foliage and hot pink blooms. It has been introduced from the Far East. It has gracefully arching branches and brilliantly-colored foliage. It is an attractive but tender evergreen belonging to the Witch-Hazel family. It is a medium sized shrub, thriving best in a peaty and gritty soil, it can be grown outdoors only in the areas of Texas with a mild winter. In early spring it produces a mass of white flowers, with strap-shaped petals.

The Fringe tree is altogether a different plant. Depending on which species you choose, fringe tree is terrific either as a large specimen or an under story tree. Both American and Chinese varieties of the Chionanthus species do well in landscapes across most of the state.

In the wild, you'll see American fringe tree (C. virginicus) blooming in early spring across East Texas. Some describe it as a "gossamer lace" look. In open settings this tree can grow as tall as a one-story house.

Chinese fringe tree (C. retusus) maintains a smaller height, providing a beautiful show of color at eye-level. This tree is one of the most exciting small, flowering trees to come along in many years. It's also a plant form that is in tremendous demand for use in today's landscapes. As a result, the few nurseries that offer Chinese fringe trees can never seem to produce enough of them. Maybe it's just as well that this tree isn't as well-known as Grancy Graybeard, the common name for its native American cousin. Both are spectacular in the landscape, but the Chinese species is easier to grow and showier when it's in flower.

Both fringe tree species are adapted to acidic or slightly alkaline soils. They're cold tolerant for most of Texas, but in are difficult to grow in alkaline soils (San Antonio, Dallas and points farther west). If water in your area is extremely alkaline, it is not practical to keep the soil acidic.

Both species are deciduous, so their lack of foliage in winter can be used to advantage in areas where you want more sun in winter. Here are some additional distinguishing characteristics of each.

American Fringe Tree (C. virginicus) Generally a small tree, this species can ultimately grow to 30 feet tall with a distinctive rounded growth habit. It's hardy throughout the state and is easy to grow in sandy, acidic soils. The flowers aren't as white as those on the Chinese species -- they tend to blend more with the leaves -- but the effect is still very attractive in the landscape.

Chinese Fringe Tree (C. retusus). A rounded growth habit characterizes this species, too, but it only gets as tall as 20 feet. It's hardy across all of Texas except in the far northern reaches of the Panhandle. Like American fringe tree, it shows iron chlorosis (interveinal leaf yellowing) when grown in alkaline soil. Chinese fringe tree is much showier in flower than its American cousin. Flower panicles are whiter, too, and they stand out better from the foliage. This species also has glossy leaves that look great in the landscape. Chinese fringe tree is one of the few trees that will come back and flower even after its first buds are nipped in a late spring frost. It's almost guaranteed to put on a show.

Provide Plenty of Room To Grow

Either species ultimately spreads 20 to 25 feet, so allow 10 to 15 feet of room in all directions, away from houses, trees, and any other permanent structures. To keep down weeds and conserve moisture, establish a layer of pine bark mulch 4 inches deep around the base of the tree in a 3- to 4-foot radius.

The hard part may be finding a fringe tree to plant. Try local nurseries first. If you can't find one locally, here are two mail-order sources:

Yucca Do Nursery
P.O. Box. 655
Waller, TX 77484
(409) 826-4380
Two-year catalog subscription: $4.

Heronswood Nursery Ltd.
7330 NE 288th St
Kingston, WA 98346-9502
(360) 297-4172. Catalog $4.

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