Handkerchief Tree identification

The Handkerchief Tree Davidia involucrata, also known as the Ghost Tree or the Dove Tree, was first recorded in 1869 in Western China by a French missionary botanist Father David after whom it got its scientific name. It was introduced to Britain in 1901 and has since become a popular ornamental tree in large gardens and parks in warmer areas.

Handkerchief Tree identification – heart-shaped, toothed leaves, flowers with white, hanging bracts and round green then purple fruit. It gets its names from the fact that large white ‘bracts’ hang down around the flowers and look like handkerchiefs, doves or ghosts.

Handkerchief Tree

Tree in flower in late April

Handkerchief Tree leaf

The upper side of the leaf has deep veins. The lower side of the leaf is hairless in the variety vilmoriniana, which is the one most commonly found in Britain.

Handkerchief Tree flower

Flower cluster emerging with the leaves in mid-April

Handkerchief Tree flowers in spring

The flowers hang down in late spring like handkerchiefs, doves or ghosts.

Handkerchief Tree flowers

Two ‘flowers’ in late April. Each ‘flower’ is in fact a single ‘perfect’ (bisexual) flower, surrounded by many purple male anthers. The whole flower cluster is surrounded by a greenish-white ‘bract’.

Handkerchief Tree stamens and stigmas

Close-up of the male anthers with the green stigma of the bisexual flower at the bottom in this photo. Bees are the main pollinators. The white bracts are believed to attract bees and also protect the flower from rain. Once pollinated, this flower becomes a fruit. Photo taken in early May.

Handkerchief Tree fruit

The fruit is a hard nut which turns purple when ripe and contains 6 to 10 seeds. The fruit is 3cm long. Photo taken in mid November. 

Handkerchief Tree bark

The bark is brown and scaly.

The buds are dark red on a grey shoot. Photo taken in January.

Close-up of a terminal bud.

Close-up of a lateral bud.