The Sweet Smelling Chinese Fringetree

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Picture this in your yard:  A medium-sized (20-foot) tree covered in wispy white (or lavender) fragrant flowers in the spring. In fall, the leathery green leaves turn golden and small blue fruits attract birds. Even the bark is interesting, it “peels,” similar to that of a birch.

Chinese fringetree

Chinese fringetree. Photo: Joey Williamson, HGIC, Clemson Extension

Beyond the good looks of this tree is the best part, once established it is quite low maintenance. There are seldom any pest or disease issues and it tolerates moderate drought. The Chinese fringetree is an understory tree preferring partial shade, but it can take up to six or more hours of full sun daily. Alas, it is not salt-tolerant (according to, though it is otherwise well-suited to Carolina coastal life.

Chinese Fringetree

Chinese fringetree. Photo: Joey Williamson, HGIC, Clemson Extension

Before you purchase this tree, know that this species has separate male and female plants. For flowers and fruits, you want a male and a female C. retusus. Be aware there is a similar species, the white fringetree (C. virginicus) that is native to the southeastern U.S.; it is smaller and more gangly than the Chinese fringetree.

Written by Meg Rawls, North Carolina Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer