Davidia involucrata - Cornaceae

Botaniquarium - Davidia involucrata in flower


A medium-sized, deciduous tree with stunning large white bracts in early summer, that look like handkerchiefs.


EN: Dove Tree, D: Taschentuchbaum, FR: Arbre aux Mouchoirs, ESP: -, ZH: 珙桐

Botaniquarium - Davidia involucrata foliage
Fresh green foliage in early summer
Medium-sized, broad-leaved, deciduous tree. There are two different subspecies, which are treated as different taxa as they are not able to interbreed. Otherwise both trees have very similar appearance and character. D. involucrata ssp. vilmoriana is most commonly grown for it seems to be able to adapt better to our western climates, its leaves are smooth beneath, sometimes appearing blue-green. Whereas D. involucrata ssp. involucrata is less commonly grown and has the leaves densely hairy beneath. They have fresh green leaves during the growing season, turning to a rich reddish autumn colour. Buds are alternate. It flowers in early summer (May) with showy white bracts (like handkerchieves).

Davidia involucrata was first described by French priest and naturalist Abbé Armand David on a trip to China in 1868. However, it was not introduced to Britain for another 35 years, and then only after a remarkable sequence of events.

Herbarium specimens of Davidia involucrata had been sent to Kew, and nurseryman Henry Veitch expressed a keen interest in obtaining some seeds from which to grow the tree. In 1899 he commissioned the young Kew-trained botanist Ernest Wilson to go to China to find the handkerchief tree. This presented a challenge for 22-year-old Wilson, who had never been abroad before and did not speak a word of Chinese.

With only a hand-drawn map and a few written instructions to guide him, Wilson set off into the remote Yunnan region of China in search of the single known existing specimen. He was challenged by local bandits, a potentially deadly illness and nearly drowned when his boat overturned in a rocky river. When he finally found the location of the tree, Wilson was mortified to discover that it had been cut down and used to build a house. Fortunately, he went on to find other specimens and was able to send seeds back to England in 1901.
Source: Kew Science

Height: medium-sized tree, 10 - 18m (35 - 60ft)

Newly planted trees should be staked for a couple of years to avoid wind rock. After establishing remove stake. Remove any competing leaders. Shorten any shoots that grow out of balance. Otherwise little pruning needed.
Botaniquarium - Davidia involucrata fruit
Fruits on Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana

Best propagated by seeds, although not easy nor quick. They require both warm- and cold-stratification to germinate. Clean ripe fruits and mix with moist sand. Fill into polythene bags and store in a warm place for at least four to five months (this simulates a warm summer). Afterwards sow the seeds into a tray of a peat-grit mix. Again keep moist and leave outdoors during winter or store in a very cold fridge for three months to simulate the winter. Germination will be erratic and may take a few warm-cold seasons to break dormancy. Be patient, they might germinate the following season. Germination success usually 50%.

Meaning of plant name:
DAVIDIA: named after Abbé Armand David (1826-1900), French missionary

INVOLUCRATA: surrounded with bracts (latin)

Origin: Central China, West China

Growing conditions:
Any well-drained, nutritious, acid to alkaline soil, grows on loam, clay, chalk or sandy soil in sun or partial shade.

Hardiness: H5 - Hardy in most places throughout the UK even in severe winters (-15°C to -10°C)

Pests and Diseases: generally no problems

Other useful information:

Botaniquarium - Davidia involucrata branch
Davidia involucrata

Botaniquarium - Davidia involucrata bark
Bark texture of Davidia involucrata

Botaniquarium - Davidia involucrata in flower
Large white bracts surround the flowers

Have a look at Related Species