Plant Lust-Dove Tree

Davidia involucrata, commonly called dove tree, is a tree that I have known about for twenty years, but rarely have seen in the U.S. On my travels through the UK,  I have seen many beautiful specimens and am inspired to plant my own. Now I am ready to get one, if I can find one.
Creamy white flowers flutter in the breeze
Creamy white flowers flutter in the breeze
Native to woodlands in central China, Dove tree is a deciduous tree that typically grows 20-40’ tall with a broad pyramidal habit. Flowering in May, the white fluttery flowers look like handkerchiefs (it is also known as the handkerchief tree or ghost tree), this treasure is sure to draw a lot of attention when it blooms.  Here are the facts from the Missouri Botanical Garden:
Common Name: Dove tree
Type: Tree
Family: Nyssaceae Native Range: Southwestern China
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Red (flowers) and white (bracts)
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Flowering Tree
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Good Fall
Fruit: Showy
Dove tree in full bloom
Dove tree in full bloom at Hidcote


Grown in organically rich, consistently moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade, Davidia can take 10 years to flower from seed, and it may not flower regularly after that. I am sure that is a factor that stops it being more widely used, but there are newer cultivars, namely at Broken Arrow Nursery, that bloom much sooner. Some have variegated foliage, so I am tempted to try one of these.

Flowers litter the ground when finished blooming
Flowers litter the ground when finished blooming

Red-anthered flowers in rounded clusters bloom in April-May. They really show off in a good wind and look exactly like fluttering handkerchiefs!  Look at this video I took at Miserden Gardens in the UK in May.

The creamy white  bracts flutter in the slightest breeze, and, from a distance, look like white doves sitting in the tree, hence the common name. Flowers are followed by round, golf ball-sized fruits on 2-3” hanging stems.

Golf ball sized fruits form on the tree
Golf ball sized fruits form on the tree

Fall color is variable ranging from dull to bright oranges and reds, depending on location. I wouldn’t depend on it for good fall color, as it is worth it alone for the spring flowering.

Dove tree in the landscape at Miserden Gardens in the UK
Dove tree in the landscape at Miserden Gardens in the UK

To complete this perfect little specimen tree, there are no serious insect or disease problems. I will keep you posted on whether I find a transplant of this tree in my travels.

Dove tree flower
Dove tree flower


4 Replies to “Plant Lust-Dove Tree”

  1. Claire
    I just planted a Davidia this fall. Like you it has been on my bucket list since I first saw one. It’s not a fancy new cultivar but, I am thrilled to have her. I have a trip planted to Connecticut with a little luck perhaps I’ll score a second. I’ve only had the pleasure of reading your blog for a few months. It has become one of my favorites. Good luck on your hunt for the glorious Davidia. She is so worth the effort!

    1. Wow, you found one!! Broken Arrow Nursery only has a few(they told me) specimens, and is trying to build up their stock. I really want to do a trip there also.

  2. I just bought one at Broken Arrow Nursery in CT. Luckily, or unluckily I live in CT an hour from Broken Arrow. (I tend to get carried away every time I go there and buy more exotic trees then I can’t fit in my yard and my car LOL). Can anyone tell me how big this will get in 5-10 years? It is currently 1 inch trunk size and 7′ tall.

    1. I don’t know. Did you ask Broken Arrow tell you? I have seen them in the UK and they were at least 30 high and wide.

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