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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chionanthus retusus - Chinese fringetree

Every once in while I see something out of the corner of my eye on a street that I am on all the time and wham.... April 1, a sunny day after so many rainy days, we were on our bikes coming out of Capitola Village on Monterey Blvd. and off to the left something catches my eye. I stop, tell my wife, I have to go see if that's what I think it is....

Sure enough, in full bloom, a beautiful specimen of the Chinese Fringetree. I have only seen a few in scattered locations in town, not that there aren't more of them.

The Fringetree is a beautiful, small, deciduous, pure white flowering tree. Slow to medium growth to 15-25' feet tall with a spreading to rounded crown, 10-15' wide. Often single-stemmed tree, can be found multi-stemmed as well.




The leaves are variable and there seems to be two distinct types, the northern type and the southern type. Opposite, simple, ovate to narrow-elliptical to oblong, 3-4" long, leathery, younger plants have serrated margins, bright green above, lighter green and downey below. The stems are also squared and grooved at the nodes. One could get technical and maybe consider the leaf arrangement sub-opposite at times.




Lower surface, showing the downey hairs along the midrib. This one below showing the netuse notched leaf tip.



Flowering this year on April 1. Pure white flowers on male and female plants. Petals are thin, Fragrant, blooming out on the ends of the branches in 3" long panicles. Males are generally more attractive in bloom.



Female plants produce an olive shaped, dark blue fleshy fruit (a drupe) about 1/2" long ripening in late summer or early fall.



The bark is gray and peeling or tight with ridges. I have not seen any with peeling bark, only like this.



Fall color is okay, yellowish, but not great. These are located at the Watsonville location.



Considered difficult to propagate and maybe why it it not very common.

Related to a native of Southeastern US, C. virginicus, White Fringetree or the Old-man's beard. (I have not seen this locally.)





Tolerant of full sun or partial shade, and not particular about soils. Rumored to be tolerant of clay soils as well but needs decent drainage and I am not sure if those 2 things can be found in one soil. Nice small tree, pretty in bloom, possible fall color, drought tolerant, sounds good.

Misidentification:

Location:
110 Fanmar in Capitola. Maybe male
Corner of Westgate Dr and Airport Blvd. in Watsonville. Nice cluster of specimens, well done.
4690 Crystal St. in Capitola, female for sure.
High St, along side the wall of the school by the mission

This is a nice one at Filoli in Woodside.




Some beautiful ones at Stanford Univ. http://trees.stanford.edu/images/chionanthus_gal/index.htm

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