How to Grow a Dove Tree

Dove tree with green cordate leaves and white bracts hanging from bare extending branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

The dove tree (Davidia involucrata) is often used as a specimen tree to draw the eye to a desired location in a garden. This popular ornamental tree native to southwestern China makes a stunning focal point. It was even awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's prestigious Award of Garden Merit. In spring, this deciduous tree is covered with red flowers framed by large white bracts. When the wind hits the bracts, they can sway and flutter, inspiring the common names like dove tree, handkerchief tree, or ghost tree. The tree starts out with a pyramidal shape and can become rounded at maturity, reaching up to 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide. It has a medium growth rate and flowers in early spring. Ornamental nuts form after pollination; they start out green and become purple as they mature. The tree's exfoliating brown bark adds winter interest.

Botanical Name Davidia involucrata
Common Name  Dove tree, pocket handkerchief tree, laundry tree, ghost tree, handkerchief tree
Plant Type  Tree 
Mature Size  20-60 ft. tall, 20-40 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full, Partial 
Soil Type  Moist, well-drained 
Soil pH Neutral to acidic, acidic, alkaline
Bloom Time  Spring 
Flower Color  Red, white 
Hardiness Zones  6 to 8 (USDA)
Native Area  China 

Dove Tree Care

This relatively low-maintenance plant will not usually need pruning besides the general maintenance of removing any branches that have become dead, diseased, or damaged. It is virtually free from pests and diseases and can thrive for 80 years or longer.

Dove tree's cordate leaves are 2 to 6 inches long and look quite similar to those of the linden trees. They may change to orange or red before they drop. Though it appears that this tree has two very large white petals, they are actually bracts. The true flowers with reddish-purple anthers are clustered into a ball between the hanging bracts. One bract is usually 3 to 4 inches long and the other will be 6 to 7 inches long.

Dove tree branch with cordate leaves and large white bracts hanging with reddish anthers in sunlight
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Dove tree branches with dark branches, cordate leaves and white bracts hanging with reddish-purple anthers
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Dove trees on side of pathway with green cordate leaves and white bracts
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

This tree can be planted in a location with full sun or partial shade.

Soil

Pick a location in your yard that has good drainage. Moist soil is best.

Water

Dove tree has average water needs. Soil should be kept moist and watered regularly, approximately once a week in the growing season.

Temperature and Humidity

Dove trees thrive best in climates that are not too cold or hot. Leaves will wilt in extremely hot, humid conditions. They will grow in USDA zones 6 to 8. Avoid locations with strong winds.

Fertilizer

Fertilize every few years but not until the plant has been established.

Dove Tree Varieties

There are two different varieties of the Davidia involucrata plant: D. involucrata var. vilmoriniana and D. involucrata var. involucrata. The vilmoriniana plant is more tolerant of cold and can be grown in Zone 5. These are some common cultivars of dove tree:

  • The 'Lady Sunshine' cultivar has striking variegated leaves that are bright yellow with darker green in the center.
  • 'Aya Nishiki' is a unique cultivar with leaves that begin with light yellow margins and gradually become more mottled. Sometimes the margins turn purple, adding to the plant's beauty.
  • 'Crimson Spring' features leaves that are burgundy colored when they first unfurl, gradually becoming green over time.

Propagating Dove Tree

Propagation can be carried out through seed germination, or by taking hardwood cuttings in winter or softwood cuttings in fall. The plant has a double dormancy and requires both warm and cold pre-treatments if propagated from seeds. Germination takes about two years on average. The tree is more likely to bloom sooner if it was created from a cutting. Seed-grown dove trees may not bloom for 10 years or more.