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Plants from the Ground Up

Davidia involucrata – The Dove Tree

Davidia involucrata flower

I cannot think of many trees that can compare to the interest of a Davidia involucrata tree in full bloom. If you have ever had the pleasure it is not a sight you will soon forget! The enchanting and showy ‘blooms’ (truly bracts) give Davidia its many common names: Dove Tree, Handkerchief Tree or Ghost Tree. Large white unusually shaped bracts surrounding small reddish purple pom-pom flowers flutter in the breeze reminding one of doves, handkerchiefs and apparently ghosts! Dark-green cordate leaves (somewhat similar to those of the Linden) are arranged alternately on this 20-40′ pyramidal tree. If you are looking to plant a tree with four-season interest, you will find it among the many fine attributes of Davidia involucrata. The lovely flowers appear in April-May nestled among the leaves before maturing into rounded greenish seed pods, although the fall color is inconsistent, I have seen it turn fine shades of russet. The bare tree in winter shows off its’ beautifully flaky bark.

Davidia involucrata fruit

Davidia is native to central and SW China and it has a plant story as varied and interesting as the tree itself! First described by Father David Armand in 1869 who found a single specimen growing at about 6000′ feet in China near Tibet. Some time later a young plant hunter named Augustine Henry found another lone specimen in the Yangts Ichang gorges and was able to send samples back to Kew Gardens. When a young E.H. Wilson was sent to China to find this single tree, one can only imagine his despair at learning that it had been felled and used for lumber! Wilson did however prevail and managed to find an entire grove. Davidia was first introduced to North America in 1904.

Davidia grows best in rich organic soil which stays consistently moist but not wet. It can tolerate sun to part shade and is hardy to USDA hardiness zone 6. It is usually classified in the Nyssaceae (Tupelo) family, sometimes as Cornaceae (Cornus) and still again sometimes as its own Davidaceae. Involucrata is Latin for ‘with a ring of bracts surrounding several flowers’. Davidia can be grown from seed, (plant the entire nut) however, as with most trees one must have patience, it can take ten to twenty years to flower. The cultivar ‘Sonoma’ flowers much younger and can be purchased as a grafted tree and ‘Lady Sunshine’ is a beautifully variegated form.

Davidia involucrata Lady Sunshine

Davidia involucrata Lady Sunshine

For more photos and information, see Davidia involucrata at the Forestfarm Store.

One Comment

  1. There are a few at Arnold Arboretum in Boston that are absolutely amazing.

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