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When handkerchief trees bloom, they put on a spectacular show. Also known as the dove tree, the handkerchief tree is a rare and exquisite tree with a great story. Read on to learn more about this unique tree.

Handkerchief Tree - Do you know this unique tree?

Handkerchief tree - a magnificent flowering tree from China

The handkerchief tree will certainly become an eye-catcher in your garden. This deciduous tree is covered in red flowers in spring surrounded by large white bracts.

The pigeon tree is a beautiful eye-catcher in every garden

Botanical Name

The handkerchief tree is the only species in the genus and is referred to as Davidia involucrata. There are two different varieties: D. involucrata var. vilmoriniana and D. involucrata var. involucrata. The name Davidia goes back to a French missionary named Father Armand David.

Botanists assign this genus to either the Nyssaceae (tupelo), Cornaceae (dogwood) or Davidaceae families.

Davidia involucrata is the botanical name of the handkerchief tree

The dove tree flowers in May and June

Size and Shape

The handkerchief tree grows 8 to 15 meters high and 7 to 12 meters wide. It forms a pyramid-shaped crown that becomes wider and more rounded. Like many dogwoods, the small flowers are surrounded by large, showy creamy white bracts. In the case of Davidia involucrata, these look like dove wings or handkerchiefs.

This is what the tree's showy creamy white bracts look like

Foliage, flowers and fruits

Two different sized bracts can be seen around each flower. Those are actually leaves. The larger of the two is about 20 centimeters long, the smaller usually only half as big. The flowering period begins in May and lasts about three for weeks to a month. The buds themselves have a musty, hawthorn-like odor that is noticeable but by no means overpowering.

The fruits of the handkerchief tree are two to three centimeters in diameter. These are drupes with a green skin.

This is how the flower looks in detail

The leaves of the tree are green in spring and summer

Stone fruits with a green skin


The handkerchief tree is reasonably hardy, but prefers a warm, sheltered spot in full sun or partial shade. The soil should be slightly acidic to alkaline, preferably loamy, well drained and not too dry. However, the pigeon tree is sensitive to waterlogging and soil compaction. It's best to choose a spot in your yard that has good drainage.

However, the pigeon tree can also thrive in your garden

Propagation and Pruning

Propagation can be done by seed germination or by taking hardwood cuttings. The tree will flower more if grown from a cutting.

This tree does not normally require pruning other than general maintenance to remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches.

There are usually no problems with pests or diseases on this tree.

Enjoy the true beauty of nature

Handkerchief tree - an exciting story

Davidia involucrata is native to China and is named after the first Westerner to describe the handkerchief tree, a French monk named Père Armand David, who worked in China for a long time. He also gave his name to the butterfly bush Buddleia davidii. Father David discovered a single handkerchief tree in 1869 but was unable to ship a seed back to Europe.

The handkerchief tree actually has an interesting story

The second westerner to discover a handkerchief tree in China was the Irish physician and botanist Augustine Henry in 1888. Henry did not send any seed to Europe either, but his description gave one of the most successful nursery gardeners of the time, an Englishman named Sir Henry Veitch, serious Plant lust.

Père Armand David first discovered and described the handkerchief tree

In 1899, Veitch sent young E.H. Wilson to China to bring the handkerchief tree to Europe. The 23-year-old aspiring plant researcher had never traveled abroad, but he took on the mission. Thanks to a map made by Augustine Henry, Wilson hiked more than 1,500 miles to find the same tree. But the lonely tree had been felled. Discouraged but not defeated, Wilson continued and was eventually able to find more trees. In 1901 he returned hundreds of seeds to Veitch. But the glory of being the first to obtain the coveted tree doesn't belong to him.

Veitch and Wilson did not know that four years earlier a French missionary in China named Père Paul Guillaume Farges had sent 37 Davidia seeds back to France. One of the trees germinated in 1899 in the Arboretum of Maurice de Vilmorin. It flowered in 1906. And Veitch's trees didn't begin to flower until 1911.

And so we can also marvel at the beautifully blooming handkerchief tree in Europe.

Feast for the eyes!

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