The Q&A Archives: Berries On Chinese Fringe Tree

Question: Are the berries found on the Chinese Fringe Tree (Chionanthus retusus)produced only by a female plant; and if so, how close must a male plant be located to pollinate?
When buying this tree, how can one tell a male from a female other than lack of berries?

Answer: According to Michael Dirr's "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants" this tree (Chionanthus retusus) will only produce fruit (technically called a drupe) on females, so you would need a pair. Generally a location within about 30 feet would be a rule of thumb. The only way to tell them apart reliably is by the fruits, although the male's flowers are also said to be showier. It can take the tree about ten years to begin fruiting, and since the fruits tend to be hidden beneath the foliage anyway, there is not really such a decorative aspect to them -- the birds like to eat them, though. In my experience they are all lovely in bloom although this plant may alternate with heavy and lighter years of bloom and consequently crop. These trees are seed grown (both grafting and seed germination are apparently quite difficult) and at this point I am not aware of anyone selling a male or female cultivar. Personally, they are all lovely trees and I would not worry too much about male or female. Having said all that, I should caution you that the Chinese Fringetree is less winter hardy than the native fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus. I would suggest you consult with your local nursery personnel as to whether or not the tree would be hardy in your microclimate. Good luck with your fringetree!

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