ny Circular No.
21 Fla. Dept. Ag ic. & Cpnsu erv.
Division of i lAWl'ISIBOy
PYGMY FRINGE-TREE, CHIONANTHUS PYGMAEU;,
ENDANGERED BY LOSS OF HABITAT MAR 26 1987
K. R. Langdon fIn:vet Of Florid
Two species of Chionanthus are native to the southeastern United States. The
more common of the two, graybeard or fringe-tree, C. virginicus L., grows in
hammocks and woods from Pennsylvania south to Florida and west to Texas. This
species is a small flowering tree and is often cultivated for its fringe-like
white flowers. The other species, C. pygmaeus Small (2) or pygmy fringe-tree
(Fig. 1), occurs naturally only in the sandhill scrub at the lower end of the
Central Florida ridge. It grows normally as a shrub and is adapted to peri-
odic burning. It has ornamental possibilities but is rarely used. Flowers
are white, similar to those of C. virginicus but smaller.
Fig. 1. Chionanthus pygmaeus in flower
(DPI Photo #702902-9)
DESCRIPTION: Chionanthus pygmaeus: Shrub with underground stems (2), upright
stems often arising from branches buried by blowing sands (3), usually 2-4 dm
tall, seldom reaching 1 m, but with the absence of fire may occasionally reach
2 m or more; leaves opposite, deciduous, simple, elliptic, entire, leathery,
3-9 cm long, short petioled; flowers in spring in panicles from leaf axils;
calyx lobes ovate or orbicular-ovate, about 1 mm long, obtuse or minutely
pointed; corolla lobes 4, white, linear, about 1 cm long; anthers ellipsoid,
less than 2 mm long, abruptly blunt tipped or acute but not prolonged; drupe
* oval, 2-2.5 cm long, purple-black, stone ellipsoid, constricted at base, 1.5-2
cm long (1,2,3).
Botanist, Office of Systematic Botany, P. O. Box 1269, Gainesville, FL 32602.
DISCUSSION: Chionanthus- pygmaeus differs from C. virginicus in habitat,
(growth habit, leaf size and texture, flower size, and fruit size. C. virgini-
-Acus, in contrast to the description above for C. pygmaeus, has leaves thinner,
.up to 20 cm'*Rng and 12 cm wide, corolla lobes 1.5-3 cm long, and fruit 1-1.5
cm long. There was considerable controversy at one time about whether C.
pygmaeus shoidL be considered a distinct species from C. virginicus. Most
Modern authors now accept C. pygmaeus as a distinct species based on the above
differences and other factors (1,3).
tFi'nanthus pygmaeus occurs only in isolated locations and is limited in
distribution to the excessively drained and leached white sand ridges and
scrub vegetation of the southern end of the Central Florida ridge in Polk and
Highlands Counties. This same well drained habitat is also highly desirable
for various types of development. Much of this area is being converted to
citrus groves, commercial development, or housing. For example, the area
where the photograph (Fig. 1) was taken has since been bulldozed, and this
population of C. pygmaeus has been lost. This location is near the southern
extreme of the plant's distribution and beyond the range quoted by Ward (3).
This site is represented in the Division of Plant Industry Herbarium by the
specimen L-1905. Continued land development in that area is seriously deplet-
ing the populations of pygmy fringe-tree and other endemic species in this
Chionanthus pygmaeus is currently listed as an endangered plant in Florida
Statutes (Section 581.185). This prohibits collection, transport, or sale
without permission and a permit. At the present time, however, there is no
legal way to prevent a landowner from bulldozing or otherwise destroying any
plants growing on his property. As long as the plants are not being trans-
ported or sold, the state has no control over the matter.
Land acquisition with habitat preservation appears to be the only way to
prevent the extinction of this and other sand scrub endemics within the for-
seeable future. Continued uncontrolled development will soon destroy the few
remaining sites where C. pygmaeus grows. Ward (3) states that it now
"...grows only on a few-score Florida acres, and will be extinct once these
are converted to patios and parkways."
1. Hardin, J. W. 1974. Studies of the southeastern United States flora. IV.
Oleaceae. Sida 5(4):274-285.
2. Small, J. K. 1924. Plant novelties from Florida. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club
3. Ward, D. B., ed. 1979. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Vol. 5.
Plants. University Presses of Florida, Gainesville. 175 pp.
Contribution No. 22, Office of Systematic Botany.