CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Chionanthus pygmaeus

c. 1991 Steve Shirah

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CPC National Collection Plant Profile

Chionanthus pygmaeus

Common Names: 
pygmy fringe tree, pygmy fringetree, pygmy fringe-tree
Growth Habit: 
Subshrub, Shrub
CPC Number: 


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Chionanthus pygmaeusenlarge
Photographer: c. 1991 Steve Shirah

Chionanthus pygmaeusenlarge
Photographer: Jon Shaw

Chionanthus pygmaeus is Fully Sponsored
Primary custodian for this plant in the CPC National Collection of Endangered Plants is: 
Dorothy M. Brazis contributed to this Plant Profile.

Chionanthus pygmaeus

The Pygmy fringe tree is an endemic shrub native to the coarse, wind-deposited sands of central Florida. It is long-lived, and can persist in areas that are burned once every 20 to 70 years. This species depends on fire to maintain the open, sandy patches it requires. This fringetree has above-ground stems buried and growing from their rootstalks, which allows it to resprout after the occasional fire that burns through its habitat. (USFWS 1999) Much of this species' habitat has been lost due to land clearing for residential development and citrus production. As a result, Chionanthus pygmaeus, as well as a number of other plant species in the same habitat, was listed as federally endangered on January 21, 1987. (USFWS 1999)

This small tree has many characteristics that make it unique, including pleasant-smelling white flowers. It is related to Asian and American fringe trees, which reach heights of 30 feet and are common in the horticulture trade. This fringe tree, aptly named the Pygmy fringe tree, shares all of characteristics of its larger relatives, but reaches only four feet in height. This is due to the fact that it is adapted to a harsh, dry environment.

Distribution & Occurrence

State Range
State Range of  Chionanthus pygmaeus
  The pygmy fringe tree is found primarily in sand pine (Pinus clausa) -scrub, sandhill, and intermediate habitats, high pineland and xeric hammocks. The major evergreen scrub oaks are myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia), Chapman oak (Quercus chapmanii), and sand live oak (Quercus geminata). Scrub vegetation is found along the Florida coasts and on the sand ridges of the interior of the Florida peninsula. The pygmy fringe tree also occurs in longleaf pine-turkey oak vegetation in a limited area west of Lake Apopka in Lake County. In Highlands and Polk Counties, this species also occurs in "turkey oak barrens" that are intermediate between high pineland and scrub (USFWS 1999).

Common woody plant associates include Quercus geminata, Q. chapmanii, Q. inopina, Q. myrtifolia, Ceratiola ericoides, Ilex opaca var. arenicola, Carya floridana, Serenoa repens, Sabal etonia, Lyonia ferruginea, etc. There may also be thin overstory of scattered Pinus clausa or P. elliottii (Kral 1983). Also found occasionally in longleaf pine-turkey oak vegetation, high pineland, dry hammocks, and transitional habitats (Martin 1987; USFWS 1989)

  The pygmy fringe-tree is endemic to central Florida and occurs in Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Manatee, Osceola, Polk and Seminole Counties.

Number Left
  Although Florida Natural Areas Inventory lists 55 sites, many contain only a few individuals (NatureServe 2001). Only ten protected sites occur at Ferndale Ridge, Horse Creek Scrub, Eagle Lake, Hesperides, Lake Walk in Water, Sunray Hickory Lake, Avon Park Lake, Silver Lake, Carter Creek, and Flamingo Villas (FNAI 2001)Tiger Creek, Saddle Blanket Lakes and Lake Arbuckle sites in Highlands, Polk, Lake, Manatee, possibly Hillsborough counties


Global Rank:  
Guide to Global Ranks
Federal Status:  
Guide to Federal Status
Recovery Plan:  

State/Area Protection
  State/Area Rank Status Date  
  Florida S3 LE 4/1/1998  

Conservation, Ecology & Research

Ecological Relationships
  Pygmy fringetree seldom occurs as more than a small population on any given site. The scrub areas with the largest number of plants are located is fairly open and without an overstory canopy, as Chionanthus cannot tolerate heavy shade (unpublished FNAI data).

This plant reproduces by root sprouts and, occasionally, by seed (Stout 2000). This species is similar to the widespread fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus, and the two have been reported to hybridize in cultivation, but not in the Pygmy fringetree's natural habitat. The two are distinct species, though (USFWS 1999).

  The principal cause of its decline is residential development which results in loss of the unique habitat required by this species. The conversion of high pineland and scrub for agricultural purposes (principally citrus groves), and for commercial, residential, and recreational purposes have reduced its populations extensively. (USFWS 1999)

Because Pygmy Fringe-tree cannot tolerate shade (NatureServe 2001), fire suppression is an additional threat to its existence.

Current Research Summary
  Bea Pace at the TNC Tiger Creek site is monitoring this species.
Jack Stout at UCF is monitoring at Tiger Creek or Saddle Blanket.
The four plants in the Endangered Species Garden at Bok Tower Gardens (2 males, 2 females) bloomed and set seed in 1997.
Bok Tower Gardens has successfully germinated seeds from this species in a greenhouse setting, getting as much as 60 to 70 percent germination rates.

Current Management Summary
  One location of this species occurs on land owned by The Nature Conservancy, and controlled burns were carried out in sections where C. pygmaeus is found during the spring and summer of 1997. The effects of different-timed burns on this species is being monitored. The effectiveness of other management techniques hasn't been explored for this species. (USFWS 1999)

Research Management Needs
  1) Preservation of existing populations of Chionanthus pygmaeus, especially the Saddle Blanket Lakes Scrub in extreme southern Polk Co. as proposed by the FNAI to the state CARL Program (USFWS 1999).

2) Continue to determine appropriate management plans for Tiger Creek, including methods to thin the overstory and perform fire management. Continue to monitor the results.

3) Use field surveys to monitor known populations and search for new ones.

4) Research the life history of C. pygmaeus.

Ex Situ Needs
  Maintain germplasm and conservation gardens.


Books (Single Authors)

Coile, N.C. 2000. Notes on Florida's Regulated Plant Index (Rule 5B-40), Botany Contribution 38. Gainesville, Florida: Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry.

FNAI. 2000. Field Guide to the Rare Plants and Animals of Florida online. Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

Hall, David W. 1993. Illustrated plants of Florida and the coastal plain. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House. 431p.

Prance, G.T. 1977. Extinction is forever. New York: New York Botanical Garden.

Radford, A.E.; Ahles, H.E.; Bell, C.R. 1968. Manual of the vascular flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. 1183p.

Service, USDA Forest. 1974. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agriculture Handbook No. 450. Washington, D.C: United States Department of Agrictulture, Forest Service.

Small, J.K. 1933. Manual of the southeastern flora. New York, NY: Hafner Publishing Company. 1505p.

Ward, D.B. 1979. Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida Volume 5: Plants. Gainseville, FL: University Presses of Florida.

Wunderlin, R.P. 1998. Guide to the vascular plants of Florida. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. 806p.

Books (Sections)

Gill, J.D.; Pogge, F.L. 1974. Chionanthus virginicus L., fringetree. In: Schopmeyer, C.S., editor. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agric. Handbk. 450. USDA Forest Service: 323B325. Washington, DC.

Goodrum, P.D.; Halls, L.K. 1961. Fringetree. In: Halls, L.K.; Ripley, T.H., editors. Deer browse plants of southern forests. USDA Forest Service, Southern and Southeastern Forest; Experiment Stations: 10B11. New Orleans.

Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the U.S., Canada, and Greenland. In: Kartesz, J.T.; Meacham, C.A., editors. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden. Chapel Hill, NC.

Myers, R.L. 1990. Scrub and High Pine. Ecosystems of Florida. University of Central Florida Press. Orlando, FL.

Stout, I.J. 2000. Monitoring of the pygmy fringe tree (Chionanthus pygmaeus) at Tiger Creek Preserve. In: Gordon, D.R.; Slapcinsky, J.L., editors. Annual Research Report: A Compilation of Research Conducted or Supported by The Nature Conservancy in Florida. Florida Science and Stewardship Programs and The Nature Conservancy.

Wallace, S.R. 1995. Collecting rare species in Florida. In: Guarino, Luigi; Rao, V. Ramanatha; Reid, Robert, editors. Collecting Plant Genetic Diversity--Technical Guidelines. CAB International. Wallingford, UK. p 685-689.

Electronic Sources

(2001). Floridata - Encyclopedia of Plants and Nature. [Searchable Web site] Floridata.com LC. http://www.floridata.com/tracks/scrub/endangered/menu_end.htm. Accessed: 2002.

(2002). Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants. [Web site] University of South Florida Institute for Systematic Botany. http://www.plantatlas.usf.edu/isb/default.htm. Accessed: 2008.

NatureServe. (2008). NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. [Internet].Version 7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. Accessed: (June 17, 2008).

USGS. (2002). Status of Listed Species and Recovery Plan Development. [Web site] USGS: Norther Prairie Wildlife Research Center. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/others/recoprog/plant.htm. Accessed: 2002.

Journal Articles

Abrahamson, W.G. 1984. Post-fire Recovery of Florida Lake Wales Ridge Vegetation. American Journal of Botany. 71, 1: 9-21.

Abrahamson, W.G. 1984. Species response to fire on the Florida Lake Wales Ridge. American Journal of Botany. 71, 1: 35-43.

Duever, L.C. 1983. Natural communities of Florida's inland sand ridges. Palmetto. 3, 3: 1-3.

Hardin, J.W. 1974. Studies of the southeastern U.S. Flora. IV. Oleaceae. Sida. 5: 274-285.

Johnson, A.F. 1982. Some demographic characteristics of the Florida rosemary, Ceratiola ericoides. American Midland Naturalist. 108, 1: 170-174.

Menges, E.S.; Gordon, D.R. 1996. Three levels of monitoring intensity for rare plant species. Natural Areas Journal. 16, 3: 227-237.

USFWS. 1986. 18 Plants Proposed for Listing Protection. Endangered Species Technical Bulletin. 11, 5: 1-13.

USFWS. 1987. Determination of endangered or threatened status for seven Florida scrub plants. Federal Register. 52, 13: 2227-2234.


Kral, R. 1983. A report on some rare, threatened or endangered forest related vascular plants of the south. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Forest Service. p.718. USFS technical publication R8-TP2, . Vol. 1.

Kral, R. 1983. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. Athens, GA: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service. p.1305. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service Technical.

USFWS. 1989. Recovery plan for eleven Florida scrub plants. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. p.64.

USFWS. 1996. Recovery Plan for Nineteen Central Florida Scrub and High Pineland Plants (revised). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. p.134.

USFWS. 1999. South Florida Multi-species Recovery Plan. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region.

Weekley, Carl. 1996. Chionanthus pygmaeus Monitoring Report #1. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.

Weekley, Carl. 1999. Chionanthus pygmaeus at Lake Wales Ridge State Forest; Monitoring Report #2. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Division of Forestry: Statewide Endangered and Threatened Plant Conservation Program.


Elfers, S.C. 1989. A biosystematic study of Chionanthus in the southeastern United States. [M.S.]: University of Central Florida. Orlando, Florida.

  This profile was updated on 3/4/2010
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