Posts Tagged Fringe Tree

Current Bloomers

Iris ‘Batik’

This accelerated spring — with the occasional blasts of arctic air thrown in for fun — has made it difficult for me to keep up with everything blooming in my yard. I’ve missed showing you quite a few deciduous azaleas, for example, but I showed them all to you last year, when they politely bloomed mostly one at a time, so search on deciduous azaleas within this blog if you want to see what they look like.

We went down to 32 degrees at my house this morning. Last week, we dove to 28. Most of the flowers survived, but I am sad to say that my Magnolia ashei was most definitely a casualty this year.

Current bloomers that have weathered the weather include:

Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate.’Here’s what the entire plant looked like this morning, where it flourishes beside our little front water feature:

And here’s a closer view so you can better appreciate her flowers:

The chartreuse foliage does a great job of accentuating the purple flowers.

My umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is blooming thirty feet up at the top of the tree, but I couldn’t get a shot of the open flower. I settled for a nearly open bud:

When fully leafed out, this plant does provide excellent shelter from sudden rain storms.

The fringe trees — both native and Chinese varieties — are at peak bloom right now. Here’s the top of the native tree:

And here’s a close view of part of the Chinese species:

The wetland at the edge of my property is still full of blooming Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and a few Atamasco lilies still bloom too. The spore-producing fronds of the Cinnamon Ferns that give them their common name are just beginning to fade, as you can see here:

The Red Buckeyes are still blooming, although some of the flower clusters are showing signs of seed production.

Abundant and terrifyingly vigorous poison ivy is everywhere. Here’s a stem showing flower buds about to open:

Makes me feel itchy just looking at the stuff, so I think I’ll close for now with the one deciduous azalea currently about to reach peak bloom in our north-facing garden: Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis.’ It’s already taller than me. In a few more years, this one in bloom will be so magnificent that it may stop traffic.

Despite the ups and downs of our temperatures, I am making progress in the vegetable garden. I’ll update you soon.

My advice to all this year: Walk outside as often as you can if you want to be sure you see every new blooming plant before it starts and finishes. Blink twice this year, and you’ve missed half the show.

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Fringe Tree: Another Piedmont Spring Show-off

Chionanthus virginicus

I planted my native Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus) on my north-facing slope near the bottom of the hill about fifteen years ago. It probably gets more shade from the canopy trees towering over it (River Birches, Sweet Gums, Tulip Poplars) than it would like for optimal blooming, but it still puts on a spring show every year.

I used to worry about it every spring. It is one of our last native trees to leaf out. But I’ve learned to trust that it knows what it’s doing, and each succeeding year, my patience is rewarded with more flowers.

Fringe Trees  are so named for the conspicuous clusters of white flowers that dangle like fringe — or tinsel on a Christmas tree. I don’t think its other common names — Old-Man’s-Beard and Grancy Gray Beard — adequately convey the loveliness of this tree (a member of the Olive Family) in full bloom. I’m not alone in my opinion. In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (5th edition), Michael Dirr states that the British consider this species to be “one of the finest American plants introduced into their gardens” (page 229).

Trees usually produce either mostly female or mostly male flowers; the male flowers are showier because of their longer petals. Fertilized female flowers produce blue berry-like fruits (botanically, drupes) that are very popular with birds — and ornamental until they are devoured.

When it’s not in bloom or fruit, this nearly pest-free native blends inconspicuously into the understory, providing cover and habitat for wildlife. It is ideal in landscapes when planted along a forest (or natural area) edge, and requires conditions similar to Dogwoods and Redbuds. Planting several together provides optimal spring impact and is more likely to ensure fruit production.

I think the flowers on my tree are mostly female, but because I don’t have any other trees nearby, it doesn’t produce fruit. I need to plant more Fringe Trees nearby — preferably male trees — so that I can provide more fruit for the local birds. My tree is about fifteen feet tall now, and will likely grow another ten or so feet before it attains its mature size.

A few years back — maybe five or six — I planted a Chines Fringe Tree (Chionanthus retusus). A local nursery that specializes in well-adapted Asian species was selling them, and I couldn’t resist performing my own comparative analysis by planting my native Fringe Tree’s Asian cousin nearby.

My Chinese Fringe Tree leafs out before the native, but achieves peak bloom later. It seems to be growing into a more shrubby form than the native tree, and its leaves are quite thick and lustrous — altogether a very different-looking Chionanthus.

The flowers of my Asian specimen are not as showy as those of the native.  Like our native Fringe Tree, this species is mostly dioecious (male or female). I think mine may be a female, but I’m not positive. It will probably grow to be a smaller tree/shrub than my native specimen, and now that it’s getting bigger, the exfoliating (peeling) bark its noted for is becoming increasingly evident.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I prefer our native Fringe Tree. Most of the year, it inconspicuously contributes to the forest understory, providing cover, habitat, and food. But every spring, it shines as its snowy fringe flowers dance in the sweet-scented breezes of the season.

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