Plant Collector: Davidia involucrata

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Many readers will know this tree by its common names – variously “Dove Tree”, “Handkerchief Tree” or “Ghost Tree”. I’m going for the handkerchief. In full flower it does look as little as if somebody has pegged white hankies all over it. In fact the showy white bits are not flower petals, they are what are called bracts – specialised leaves which are an adjunct to the flower structure. The actual flower is pretty insignificant. It is the same with bougainvillea where the showy, colourful bits are bracts, not petals.

The davidia is a deciduous tree from central and western China which means it is cold hardy. It is a medium sized tree, upright and conical in habit, reaching maybe 10 metres in height. It needs a bit of age before it reaches flowering size so is not a tree for the impatient gardener. Keep an eye out for damage from cicadas which can weaken branches.

The davidia makes a handsome tree with lovely, light green, pleated leaves – not unlike a tilia or lime tree but more compact in the longer term – with a floral display which is quite remarkable.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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2 thoughts on “Plant Collector: Davidia involucrata

  1. Pat Webster

    Davidia involucrata is one of several trees I’d love to grow but can’t. You may consider it cold hardy, Abbie, but it would freeze in an instant in my winter garden. So, sadly, I can only enjoy seeing it elsewhere. There’s a huge beauty at Winterthur in Delaware — quite an elderly specimen, I imagine, judging from its size.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      When we say hardy, we mean throughout New Zealand including southerly ares. That is not the same thing as inland continental climate that freezes bark!

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