What: Davidia involucrata, also known as “Dove tree” and “handkerchief tree,” is truly enchanting in full flower — so much so that its reputation led the great plant explorer E.H. Wilson (1876 to 1930) to travel for two years in China to find it and collect its seed. In late May and early June, it is draped with 7-inch-long white bracts that enclose its smaller flowers. Handkerchiefs, doves — these dramatic blossoms have earned it such evocative common names. Seedling-grown plants of this species may take 10 years to begin flowering. If you can find it, buy the cultivar “Sonoma,” which begins blooming at about age 2. Otherwise, plant the species as it is just as beautiful. Dove tree’s cinnamon-colored bark provides winter interest. Plant dove tree with rhododendrons, Japanese maples and shade-loving perennials.
Size: The tree is 40 feet tall and 40 feet wide when mature.
Where: Dove tree prefers well-drained soils, but will tolerate sandy or clay soil with adequate drainage. The best flowering will develop in full sun to light or open shade.
Water: Occasional watering is appreciated during dry weather.
— Richie Steffen