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Sunday - July 05, 2009

From: Libertyville, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Fringe tree appropriate for Libertyville IL
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in Libertyville Illinois and admired a fringe tree on the Biltmore Estate. Are the weather & soil conditions conducive to having a fringe tree in this area?


Boy, common names are hard on Mr. Smarty Plants. We went looking for a "fringe tree" and found not one, not two, but three. 

There is a tree native to North America, Chionanthus virginicus (white fringetree); however, it is not native to Illinois. This USDA Plant Profile on the plant shows that it does not grow in Illinois at all, but does grow in some states around it. This tree grows 15 to 30 ft. tall, has high water use, and prefers loose, moist, sandy, acidic soils. It blooms white April and May, needs some shade and is hardy from Zones 3 to 9. 

From Floridata, Lorapetalum chinense also turns up when you Google "Chinese Fringe Tree." Belonging to the family Hamamelidaceae or witch hazel family, it is native to China, Japan and India and hardy from Zones 7b to 8a.

This article from the Mercer Arboretum by Peter Del Tredici and Jianhua Li on Chionanthus retusa gives information about this native of Korea, hardy from Zones 5 to 9. It is of the same genus, Chionanthus, as  Chionanthus virginicus (white fringetree), but is not native to North America. 

So, which one did you see, and would it grow in the farthest northeastern county, Lake County, in Illinois? According to the USDA Hardiness Zone maps, Libertyville is located in Zone 5a (average annual minimum temperatures of -20 to -25 deg. F). 

We looked up the Biltmore Estate, and learned it is located near Asheville, NC, in Hardiness Zones 6b to 7a (-5 to +5 deg. F). Going just by the Hardiness Zones, either of the members of the Chionanthus genus would do fine there, but the Lorapetalum chinense would be marginal. Using the same measure, both of the Chionanthus genus would be okay in your location, but we still don't know why none of them grow in Illinois. Since they grow as near to Illinois as a few counties in Southern Missouri, you would think birds would have carried seeds to northern Illinois. 

In answer to your question: "Are the weather & soil conditions conducive to having a fringe tree in this area?" Weather, yes, although the non-native to North America, Chionanthus retusa, would be marginal. That leaves us wondering if the soil in your area is not hospitable to the Chionanthus genus. Since we have no way of determining what your soil is like, we would suggest you contact the University of Illinois Extension Office for Lake County IL . They may very well know right off the bat what your soil composition is, and could help you make a judgment on whether or not it was worth it to try to amend the soil (if that is possible) or make whatever other  alterations might be necessary.

We just want to remind you that this is why the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the use, care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plant is being grown. Your chances are a lot better with a plant that is actually native to your area, and that native plant should need less fertilizer, water and maintenance. 

Pictures of non-native Lorapetalum chinense

Pictures of non-native Chionanthus retusa

Below are pictures of the native Chionanthus virginicus (white fringetree) from our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Chionanthus virginicus

Chionanthus virginicus

Chionanthus virginicus

Chionanthus virginicus



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