Chionanthus retusus

Scientific name: Chionanthus retusus

Author: retusus Lindl.

Common name: Chinese Fringe Tree

Family: Oleaceae




Top of bed 195, below the Residence Garden and above the De Ferranti Pavilion

W. J. Bean in ‘Trees and Shrubs hardy in the British Isles’ records the ‘dome of soft, fleecy snow’ description and attributes it to a traveller in China. Visit the top of bed 195, below the Residence Garden and above the De Ferranti Pavilion, and form your own opinion of the Chinese Fringe Tree, Chionanthus retusus.

Ideal as a shade tree or as a specimen planting, this species thrives in fertile, well drained but moisture-retentive soil. Its natural distribution is China, Korea and Japan where it occurs in forests and on cliffs.

The plant explorer Robert Fortune first introduced this beauty to the west in 1845 though cultivated material did not result. A re-introduction by Charles Maires in 1879 established the horticultural reputation of the Chinese Fringe Tree.

Usually texts describe only two of the 100 species for this mostly northern-hemisphere genus, the other being C. virginicus from the Eastern United States. These are the most commonly cultivated species. Nine Chionanthus species, from Florida, Cuba, Jamaica and Mauritius are internationally recognised as rare, vulnerable or endangered.

Australia too forms home to several Chionanthus species. One of these, Chionanthus ramiflorus, from Queensland, is growing at the Australian Botanic Garden though it is yet to make its flowering debut.