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Davidia involucrata - The Dove Tree

The Dove tree (Davidia involucrata) is an elegant medium sized slow growing deciduous tree sometime referred to as 'pocket handkerchief tree'. The flowers which appear in spring are actually small, however they are surrounded by white bracts that resemble 'handkerchiefs' or 'doves'.

When in full flower this is perhaps one of the most beautiful of all of the deciduous trees, competing even with the Magnolias.

The flowers hang beneath the branches, a little like washing on a line. Originally from the hilly areas of South Western China, this is one one of the most elegant flowering ornamental trees when in full flower.

The leaves are large up to 6 in long, toothed and heavily veined, making an attractive addition to the garden through summer and into fall.

The Dove tree (Davidia involucrata) will reach 20m (60ft) in time so this is one for a large garden. Fall foliage is an attractive buttery yellow. A humus rich well drained soil is best. This one is not drought tolerant.

It will take a few years for this tree to flower, best suited to USDA zones 6 - 8.

Propagation

Propagataion from seed is possible, however cold stratification will be required and even then germination can take between 2 and 4 years. Added to the fact that seedling trees can take 15 years to actually flower.

Cuttings of semi ripe wood taken in summer is the more usual method of propagation. Although seed grown trees are said to more vigorous.

Layering is also possible.

Varieties

Although the genus only holds the single species natural variation does exist, few different varieties are available including :

  • Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana, smoother leaves than the species and is said to withstand colder temperatures than the species.
  • Davidia involucrata 'Sonoma' said to have larger flowers and more of them than the species, also smaller growing.
  • Davidia involucrata "Lady Sunshine" has variegated foliage, green with golden margins in spring that quickly turn to a creamy white.
  • Davidia involucrata 'Columnarius', a more narrow or upright growth habit.

Did you know

Davidia involucrata is named after Père Armand David, a Priest and also one of the great botanical explorers who travelled extensively through China, Mongolia as well as Tibet in the mid 1800s.

The tree first flowered outside of its natural habitat in France in the early 1900s.

He also has the honour of being the first westerner to see and describe the giant panda. His name occurs in a number of other places as well, including Acer davidii, Buddleia davidii, Lilium davidii and others. As well as the Dove Tree.