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Hitotsubatago or Chionanthus retusus is a beautiful spring flowering deciduous tree in the Olive family (Oleaceae). It is the snowiest tree you’ll ever see. It is hard to think of a lovelier tree, the pure white fragrant flowers, hang in specacular terminal panicles which appear to cover the tree with snowy white cotton for 2-3 weeks. W.J. Bean in “Trees and Shrubs hardy in the British Isles” records the “dome of soft fleecy snow” description and attributes it to a traveler in China. For better views of the tree go to this page.


The name Chionanthus is from the Greek chion and anthos a flower, in reference to the abundant white fringelike flowers. Three is found in warm climates in China, the Korean peninsula, Japan and Taiwan. In Japan they grow in parts of the Chubu district, on Tsushima island and mainly in the Tokai-area (Gifu and Aichi prefectures) where some of the native colony of trees is designated a national treasure. On Tsushima the tree is often photographed with white blossoms covering their entire tree canopy giving the impression that the tree is lighting up the sea. For that reason, they are also known as “seashine” in Tsushima. Another common name is “Nanja-monja” which means “the thingammy-whatzitcalled”…rare trees with unknown names in various locations in Japan were once known and described in that way (sort of like the name viburnum).

Flowers emerge at the terminal end of the spring shoot growth flush. This differs from the native Fringetree which flowers before leaves emerge. As with other white-flowered trees, Chinese Fringetree looks best when viewed against a dark background. Female plants develop purple/blue fruits which are highly prized by many birds. Fall color is yellow in northern climates, but is often an unnoticed brown in the south, with many leaves dropping to the ground a blackened green. The flowers can be forced into early bloom indoors. The blue fruit is produced on female plants (Vis. 2). The bark is also ornamental and provides winter interest.  Ideal as a shade tree or as a specimen planting, this species thrives in fertile, well drained but moisture-retentive soil. Its natural distribution is China, Korea and Japan where it occurs in forests and on cliffs.

— May 15


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