Native American fringetrees are little-known and neglected beauties. They're hard to find. Fringetrees are so few and far between in Plainfield that the poor, solitary things can't even reproduce. Female fringetrees produce a crop of beautiful blue berries in the fall, but to do that they need a male close enough to provide pollen. I have never seen a single berry on a Plainfield fringetree.
The trees produce a magnificent floral display, which has just finished in Plainfield. The fringetree pictured below is between 1745 and 1751 Watchung Avenue.
The native fringetree below, which was also pictured in my June 2 posting, is at 653 Ravine Road.
The Ravine Road fringetree used to be the focus of an annual spring celebration complete with poetry recitations until it broke off at the ground about ten years ago. Its owners, Jean Mattson and the late Norman (Moose) Mattson, brought it back from a hollow stump by cutting away all but a few of the hundreds of sprouts that grew up from the wreckage over the space of a few years. The sprouts that were allowed to grow reconstituted an attractive multistemmed tree. I wish it a long (second) life.
How do I know that these two fringetrees are the native species, Chionanthus virginicus, rather than the beautiful Chinese import, Chionanthus retusus? I happened to be at the Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha's Vineyard for a lecture last weekend when both species of fringetree were in bloom there. I was able to take photographs permitting a comparison. The most easily recognizable difference is in the bark. The Chinese tree's bark, pictured below, is deeply furrowed, while the American's is relatively smooth.
The flowers have easily recognizable differences too. The Chinese species' blooms, shown below, are not as thread-like as the American's, shown at the top of the page.
I have not seen any Chinese fringetrees in Plainfield. Clearly there is a niche available here for both of these species of Chionanthus.
(1) The rarity of fringetrees can inspire deviant behavior in susceptible subjects. Plainfield tree lady Barbara Sandford took me trespassing into the backyard of a house on Sleepy Hollow Lane to see one in bloom a few weeks back. (I place the blame for this transgression entirely on her.)
Copyright Gregory Palermo