Handkerchief trees are native to central and southern China. Handkerchief trees were once considered to be the Holy Grail of exotic flora.
Davidia involucrata is the only member of the genus Davidia.
Deciduous tree up to 20 m tall, with bark lifting from the trunk in large flakes.
Leaves: Vivid green and heart-shaped with a fine point at the tip. Young leaves are scented.
Flowers: Borne in compact, roughly spherical, reddish purple flower heads, about 2 cm in diameter. Flower heads are overshadowed by a pair of thin, white bracts, the longest one being up to 30 cm long and about twice the size of the other. The delicate bracts flutter in the breeze giving rise to the common names handkerchief, dove and ghost tree.
Fruits: Hard, dark-green nuts, which turn purple when ripe. Each fruit contains 6–10 seeds. Seeds germinate erratically, and trees may need 10–20 years to flower.
Handkerchief trees require a site of sun to partial shade in moist, well-draining soil, although they thrive in sunnier conditions. Be sure to select a planting area that is protected from the wind and areas of standing water. Handkerchief trees are not drought tolerant, so be sure to maintain a regular irrigation schedule, but don’t drown them.
Handkerchief trees require minimal pruning but you will need to maintain a strong central leader in the first few years. Remove any broken, diseased or crossing branches in late autumn or winter. When planting incorporate lots of well-rotted garden compost in the planting hole and stake firmly. Handkerchief trees may take 10 years to flower, after which flowers are produced most years.
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