There are very few Handkerchief trees in Exeter which is a shame as they are particularity stunning trees. It gets in names from the way the flowers hang from the tree which are like handkerchiefs. It also goes by the name of the Dove tree, Ghost tree and the Pocket Handkerchief tree. The flowers are usually in full bloom in May but with the climate crisis and rising temperatures they may begin to bloom in late April. If you have a Handkerchief tree nearby don't miss the opportunity to see them in flower. Stunning.
It is a medium-sized tree which can grow to heights of 20 to 25 meters, although the ones I have seen in Exeter are quite small. It is native to South Central and Southwest China from Hubei to southern Gansu, south to Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan. In Exeter they are typically planted in larger green spaces or private gardens.
The leaves are ovate to heart-shaped and are mostly 10–20 cm long and 7–15 cm wide. From a distance they would look a bit like the leaves of Linden (Lime). There are two varieties - but they are both very similar. D. involucrata var. involucrata has slightly hairy leaves whereas D. involucrata var. vilmoriniana has hairless leaves.
The buds and leaf scars are quite large making it easier to identify
The young flowers are very unusual and fascinating
The flowers fairly small, in rounded heads about 2cm in width and held within a pair of creamy-white, ovate bracts which are about 20cm in length. They hang in long rows beneath the level branches and are at their best in late May. During a breezy day the flowers resemble doves in flight which is why it is also known as the Dove tree. It is also called the Ghost tree as the white sheets look a bit like ghosts.
The fruit is about the size of a golf ball but is more egg shaped. Within the fleshy husk is a very hard nut which contains about 3 to 6 seeds. The scientific name of Davidia involucrata is credited to the name of the person who discovered it. Armand David was a French Vincentian missionary and keen naturalist who lived in China. He described the tree in 1869 as a single tree found at over 2,000 m (6,562 ft) altitude, and sent dried specimens to Paris; in 1871.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
- Davidia involucrata is commonly known as the dove-tree, handkerchief tree, pocket handkerchief tree or the ghost tree
- It is a medium-sized deciduous tree in the family Nyssaceae
- It is native to South Central and Southwest China from Hubei to southern Gansu, south to Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan
- It is a moderately fast-growing tree, growing to 20–25 m (66–82 ft) in height (in it's native habitat)
- The leaves are mostly 10–20 cm long and 7–15 cm wide and are ovate to heart-shaped
- On a windy day, the bracts flutter in the wind like white doves or pinched handkerchiefs
- Within the fruit is a hard nut which contains 3 – 6 seeds.
- Armand David was a French Vincentian missionary and keen naturalist who lived in China and discovered the tree
- The species was introduced from China to Europe and North America in 1904
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