Fringe Tree

Chionanthus virginicus

Herbs gallery - Fringe Tree

Common names

  • Fringe Tree
  • Graybeard
  • Old-man's-beard
  • Poison Ash
  • Snowdrop Tree
  • Snowflower

The plant commonly called the fringe tree is a deciduous tree or large shrub that can reach forty feet in height when mature. The tree has characteristic reddish brown colored scales on the thin bark. The leaves of the fringe tree are thick and are borne in opposite venation; each leaf is four to eight inches in length. The leaves have an elliptical to oval shape and are dark green on the top surface of the lamina, with a pale green color underneath. The fringe tree bears fragrant smelling white colored flowers during the summer from May to June; each flower is about four to six inches in length. Each flower possesses long white fringelike petals from which the tree derives its name. The tree bears fleshy, round, and dark blue colored fruits following the floral bloom.

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The fringe tree has many stems, and is a wide and spreading plant. Coarse twigs and the branches bear the large oblong leaves. The fringe tree has a coarse appearance and morphology during the winter months, but the appearance of the tree is very different in the spring and the summer. From late May through early June, the tree is almost covered in a delicate cloud of fragrant white flowers that are borne on long panicles. Once the floral blooms start to fade late in the summer, the petals from the flowers on the tree begin to drop covering the ground beneath the tree like snow. The plant is normally dioecious and different plants bear male and female flowers - there are thus distinct male and female plants. There are slight differences in the flowers, in that the male flowers have slightly longer petals compared to the female flowers - the male flowers therefore are more striking in appearance. Following pollination, female flowers bulge into lovely blue colored which begin to form by late summer or early fall - these ripen by late fall. The fringe tree is indigenous to the United States. It is a pest and disease resistant sturdy plant, native to the eastern region of the United States. The fringe tree can be planted at sites that have good exposure to the sun or even in partial shade with some sunlight - the fringe tree grows best on rich and moisture retentive soils when cultivated in the garden.

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The fringe tree was traditionally used by the Choctaw Indians living in what is now Louisiana as an herbal astringent for treating different disorders. These native people would prepare the herbal remedy by boiling the bark of the tree; the boiled bark extract was used to cleanse external wounds and other topical complaints. To help heal and close wounds, the boiled bark would be mashed into an herbal poultice and applied on the wounds. The fringe tree and its medicinal use by native peoples find mention in the works of Dr. Charles Millspaugh, the noted American physician and botanist. He was among the first persons to completely catalog all the medicinal and herbal plants of continental America. The doctor would write about how the bark from the root of the fringe tree was used as an herbal tonic with great success. About the root bark, he writes "this bark has often also proved itself a trustworthy diuretic" mentioning its main effects in the body. The bark of the fringe tree is still cited by many modern herbals as a useful herbal diuretic remedy. The remedy made from the bark has also been specified as possessing a laxative effect in many works.

In recent times, American landscapers and gardeners have taken a liking to the fringe tree and it is now grown in many house gardens. The fringe tree is a plant of warmer climates, it is a true southern plant that is said to be waging a rebellion against the seasons by successfully growing even in temperate and colder areas. The fringe tree does not put forth its leaves till very late in spring and is one of the last trees that respond to the end of winter. In early summer, the fringe tree bears a mantle of white blossoms that resembles a sheet of snow from a distance.

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Parts used

Root bark, bark.


The herbal remedy prepared from the root bark of the fringe tree is a liver tonic that helps to stimulate the flow of bile. This remedy also possesses a mild laxative action. Disorders such as pain in the gallbladder, chronic weakness in the body, gallstones and jaundice are some of the problems which are usually treated using herbal remedies made from the fringe tree. While it has been traditionally believed to be beneficial to the functioning of the liver and the gallbladder, there is still no clinical research to support the beneficial effects of this remedy on the human body. Another popular claim supported by anecdotal evidence suggests that sugar levels in the urine are lowered to a significant degree by the fringe tree bark remedy. Herbalists also state that a waning appetite and general digestion are boosted by a tonic made from the fringe tree. It is said to be an excellent remedy for different types of chronic illnesses, particularly disorders of the liver. The crushed and pulped bark of the fringe tree is often prepared into a healing herbal poultice to treat wounds and sores on the skin.

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Native tribes in North America made extensive use of the fringe tree in their herbal remedies; the use of the tree was taken up by European settlers as well during the colonial period. The remedies made from the fringe tree were used in the treatment of oral ulcers and spongy gums, as well as to treat various inflammations affecting the eye. One common remedy is the dried root bark of the tree, this possesses an alterative, aperient and cholagogue action, it is also a diuretic, with febrifuge and tonic effects. At one time, the bark was tuned into an herbal tincture and widely used for some internal problems and disorders - to treat jaundice and hypertrophy of the liver, as well as to alleviate a bilious headache, to bring relief from gallstones, and to soothe the symptoms of rheumatism among other uses. The functioning of the spleen and the pancreas also appear to be strengthened by taking remedies made from the root bark of the fringe tree. The appetite and digestion in general are also stimulated by the remedy made from the fringe tree. The fringe tree also makes an excellent remedy for treating different chronic illnesses - liver problems in particular. An herbal poultice or herbal tea is also prepared from the root bark and used to treat external problems. This tea can be used as an herbal wash for inflammations, bed sores and to treat different kinds of infections among other problems. Fringe tree roots are harvested at any time during the year, the collected roots are stripped and the peeled bark is dried for use as and when needed.

Habitat and cultivation

The fringe tree is a native plant species of the United States. In the continental US, the fringe tree can be found in the state of Pennsylvania down south to Florida and up to Texas in the west. Due to the human activity, the fringe tree also grows in some parts of eastern Asia - where it is a naturalized species in the wild. The state of Virginia and North Carolina have the largest populations of this tree, and most trees that are harvested come from these two states - the roots are dug up mainly in the fall.

For optimal growth, the fringe tree needs good loamy soils which are neutral to acidic. Trees also grow best at sites with a good exposure to sunlight. The fringe tree can grow very well in sites with partial shade but will normally not fruit so well at such sites. The best flowers are seen on plants growing in areas that have hotter summers, in general, fringe tree plants grow slowly in areas that have cooler summers. The fringe tree is an ornamental plant. It is a hardy plant as well, capable of tolerating temperatures of about -25°C during cold winters. In the wild, the fringe tree is short lived but very fast growing - it is also remarkably free from all plant diseases and insect pests that affect other plants. Flowers can be seen on the plants when they are five to eight years old, the flowers are soon followed by the fruits. Fringe tree flowers are striking in appearance, with a delicate sweet smelling fragrance. The fringe tree is a dioecious plant, with distinct male and female plants. Needless to say, both types of plants must be grown if seed and fruit are needed by the planter. It is quite easy to transplants these plants from one place to another. This genus of plants is notable for their resistance to the honey fungus - which is a common scourge of many cultivated plants.

The fringe tree is propagated by sowing the seeds. These seeds are best sown in a cold frame once they turn ripe. The rate of germination of such seeds is usually good compared to many other plants. Seeds that are stored are usually sown in February or March inside a warm greenhouse according to a report, however, the germination of such seeds may take up to eighteen months when the temperature ranges from 15°C to 20°C inside the greenhouse. The other method is to treat stored seed to a pre-soaking lasting two to three hours in warm water, this is followed by three months of warm stratification, which is then followed by another three months storage at 2°C to 4°C. When such treated seeds are sown, the rate of germination tends to be fairly rapid and the seedlings soon appear on the seed bed. Once the seedlings turn large enough to handle, they can be pricked out into individual pots and grown in a greenhouse or on a cold frame till they turn big enough for transplantation. In spring or early summer of the following year, these plantlets have to be planted out and transplanted into their permanent positions. As soon as the new growth given off by the plants are long enough, the plants are subjected to layering. The plants make take fifteen months to mature fully. The process of layering of plants can also be undertaken in the spring or the fall of the following year.


Fringe tree contains a saponin (chionanthin) and a glycoside (phyllirine).

Usual dosage

Herbal infusion: this can be prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water on one to two teaspoonfuls of the fringe tree bark, allow the herb to infuse into the water for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. Strain and cool the infusion. Drink this infusion thrice daily for treating liver disorders.
Herbal tincture: the tincture made from the bark can be used at doses of 1-2 ml thrice daily to treat liver ailments and gallstones as well as digestive disorders.

Collection and harvesting

The usual time to unearth and collect the roots of the fringe tree is in the spring or fall seasons. The collected roots are first washed carefully and then peeled to get the bark off them. The bark is then laid out to be dried in the sun.


The fringe tree remedy may be used in an herbal combination remedy with herbs like the barberry, the wahoo or some wild yam to treat liver and gallbladder disorders of all kinds.


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