The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Chionanthus virginicus
  • Chionanthus virginicus

Common Name

White fringe tree, Old Man Beard, and Grancy Graybeard

Related Species

Chionanthus pygmaeus (Pygmy fringe tree)

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

C. virginicus is found in the eastern United States, from New Jersey to Florida, and it reaches out as far west as Texas and Oklahoma.


The white fringe tree is a deciduous tree, sometimes grown as a shrub as well, that thrives in slightly acidic soil with plenty of sun as well as shade. It does well in drought conditions, which makes it a staple of urban landscaping. The plant is characterized by medium green leaves that turn yellow in the fall and white flowers in an inflorescence. The tree grows to an average height of 10-20 feet and a width of 10-20 feet. The flowers are 6 to 8 inches long, and the tree’s berries are half inch long, purple, and egg shaped. White fringe tree can be propagated by seed, and it can also, with difficulty, be propagated from root cuttings.

Portion of the Plant Used

Bark (Devries, 2010).

Traditional Uses

White fringe tree can be used as an aperient, cholagogue, diuretic, febrifuge, hepatic, laxative, and tonic. These uses are possible because of the plant’s biochemical makeup, which contains Glycoside phyllirine, and saponin. Traditionally, the bark is used to make a tea which is consumed in order to reduce fever, relieve dyspepsia, jaundice, gallstones, to stimulate vomiting, to treat hepatitis, colic, headache, migraines, and malaria, and has been consumed due to beneficial effects on kidney and liver inflammations. A poultice made from the bark was traditionally used by Native Americans to clean wounds and sores (particularly infected) and skin irritations (Devries, 2010).


While not much research is being done on medicines derived from white fringe tree because research has not actually proven it to be useful for a majority of the things reported to be treated by it, it has been studied as a component of hepatitis medication. It has been discovered to contain a new ligand (phillyrin-6-O-beta-D-glucoside) which is believed to be useful in medication of hepatitis (Boyer et al., 2005; Boyer, et al., 2011).

Side Effects, Interactions, and Contraindications

Overdose has been shown to cause vomiting, frontal headaches, and to cause a slow pulse rate (DeVries, 2010).