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Great Native Trees of the South: Part 1

I get really excited about great trees, especially great native trees.

Some of the Southeast’s greatest trees aren’t often used in gardens. In hopes of spreading the word about these “must haves,” in my opinion, I thought I would tell you about my very favorite trees, starting with the American Fringe Tree.

Here is a pic of an American Fringe Tree in my own garden.

Thomas Jefferson loved the American Fringe Tree. So do I. He loved it so much that he planted it at Monticello and shared seeds with his friends in Europe. 

This tree has so many great qualities. It has profuse, fuzzy, fragrant white blooms, and the female plants produce deep bluish-black seeds that provide food for songbirds. To top it off, it has a wonderful nickname: “Grandaddy Graybeard,” so named for the slightly furry looking blossoms, which resemble an unkempt white beard. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was called “Old Man’s Beard.” You get the picture.  

Grandaddy Graybeard is Chionanthus Virginicus, or the American Fringe Tree, native to the USA’s entire southeast region. I’ve seen it growing wild at the edge of highways and in the most manicured of gardens. Grandaddy Graybeard is dioecious, which means there are distinctive male and female versions. In my own garden, I planted both so their offspring could be seeded throughout my property. 

Grandaddy Graybeard can be hard to transplant and finicky to grow.  But once in, it is relatively carefree. It seems to do well in moderately sunny locations (but not due west). Note: I never water my trees after the first year and they have thrived.

I’m currently working on a scented pathway around my own house using Grandaddy Graybeards. When the blossoms emerge, the scent is almost startling -- a very sweet, vanilla perfume. Walking through a little grove of Graybeards can induce profound happiness!  


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