VIU Milner Gardens and Woodland

Plant Pick: Dove Tree, Handkerchief Tree

Latin name:  Davidia involucrata

by Vancouver Island Master Gardeners Association

This is a tree for the gardener who wants something out of the ordinary and has room for it to display its potential.  It tends to branch low but usually creates a pleasing open structure. 

This species is now placed in the Dogwood family which has other members with showy bracts.  The bracts of the Dove tree are of unequal size with the larger one up to 15 cm enclosing a small flower cluster with reddish stamens.  The nut like fruit is about 3 cm in diameter and contains several seeds which may take 10 to 15 years to produce a flowering tree.  Kew Gardens reports a 50% germination rate. 

It was first discovered by (and named for) Father Armand David, a French naturalist, in 1869 and sent to Europe and eventually North America in 1904.  Found in moist forests in southern China, it likes moisture especially when getting established. 

The Dove Tree at Milner Gardens & Woodland can be found in the Second Meadows near the Upper Ponds.


Photo courtesy of:  Phyllis Fafard (left photo); Milner Gardens & Woodland (right photo)




Broadly pyramidal/oval tree with a spreading layered appearance.

Foliage type:

Deciduous with simple heart shaped leaves.  Strongly veined, dentate.


15 metres (50 feet) tall and spread of 12 metres (40 feet.)

Hardiness Zone:

Zones 6 – 9.


Full sun to light shade.

Flower colour:

White bracts surrounding a compact cluster of reddish flowers.

Leaf colour:

Medium green with variable fall colour of pastel red/orange.

Flower time:


Preferred soil

and Watering:

Moist but well drained soil.

Regular watering.  Wilts in hot dry weather.


Flowering often delayed for ten years or more. 

Basically pest free.

Young leaves are scented.