February 5, 2012

Hanky Tree

The handkerchief tree: I read about this unusual tree from China, and I have hunted down specimens whenever we visited arboretums.  I really wanted to see it.

I caught a glimpse of one at the Edinburgh Botanical Garden in Scotland several years ago, but it was deep inside a stand of tall trees, and difficult to see.  I did see one at Wave Hill Garden in New York once, but it was not in bloom.

Then, on a visit last May to Blithewold Mansion and Gardens in Rhode Island, it was right there, peeking out from behind a big oak.  Ha ---  I see you.

It is a Davidia involucrata, called a handkerchief tree for the white double bracts that flutter in the breeze.  It is also called a dove tree; some think the bracts look like a restless flock of white birds.  Still photos don't do it justice --- the beauty of this tree is its fluttering movement.

I was so surprised to finally see one with all its hankies hanging from the branches.  A fair number were carelessly discarded all over the ground.



I actually saw a small expensive dove tree for sale at a local nursery several years ago.  It is hardy to zone 6, and I used to be in zone 5 but have recently up and moved to 6a on the new map.  It can be grown here but needs winter protection.

Blithewold, with its warmer Rhode Island ocean climate, did have this one sited in a protected area.  It obviously thrives.

The hankies come out in spring and then the rest of the year it is a medium kind of ordinary looking tree.  I may have seen one and not realized it if the bracts were not hanging from the branches.

But, when it is all twinkling aflutter there is no mistaking a handkerchief tree. 

I know.  I have seen one now.

24 comments:

  1. Lucky you! This is one tree I've longed to see for ages now. It truly is a spectacular looking thing when it's covered in 'hankies'! Fabulous photos. A fellow garden blogger who lives just a little further north of me has recently got one of these trees and it's already showing off a hanky!!! Such a very special tree.

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    1. I had read that they take 10 years to flower and show the lovely bracts, so your friend is lucky to see them on a young tree. You better get up there and check it out.

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  2. This looks like a remarkable tree. I have never heard of this species before. Thank you for introducing me to a new tree today! And thank you that for telling us where to find it too. I can't wait to meet the Hanky tree.

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    1. Forest Keeper, I am so glad to hear from you again. If you can get to Rhode Island and see this tree, do it in May when the white bracts are aflutter!

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  3. OK, Ms. Zone 6a, you have to have one of these trees. So, are you going to plant one in the spring? I could use one, myself.

    By the way your images do show it off well; I can imagine the flutter.

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    1. Lee, I am so tempted to plant one, but have not seen a dove tree in the garden centers since the one I saw in 2006. Not a real popular or well known tree, I guess. If you find one locally . . . or two . . . hmmm.

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  4. I had not heard of this tree before. It is very pretty and interesting.

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    1. Gardener on Sherlock, I am so glad I could introduce you to this beauty!

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  5. I've never heard of a hanky tree either. I'll need to be on the lookout the next time I'm visiting a botanical garden.

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  6. That is one gorgeous tree. I think the JC Raulston had one years ago but it was before I started going there.

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    1. Thanks Sweetbay. I've seen some beautiful photos from JC Raulston of this tree, I wonder if they still have it?

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  7. Wow, that's a good one! Resembles a dogwood, don't you think?

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    1. Sissy, it does resemble a dogwood, only a little coarser. I have to say the hanky tree does not look like much without the white bracts, though. Just a green mid size tree, nice but not overly noticeable.

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  8. They are an unusual and unique species of tree. Your pictures do the tree just fine. I have seen it fluttering before and your photos show that it does.I always thought it looked a little like a dogwood too. I especially like the low branching on the one in your photo.

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    1. Donna, you are lucky to have seen one fluttering. They are so rare, and few people have even heard of one!

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  9. What an interesting and lovely tree! I know I've never seen one before--now I'm going to have to put this on my garden "bucket list". That is, to see, not to plant:)

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    1. Rose, Look for one in May. That's when you'll see the white bracts if you can find one. Otherwise it's not an eye catching tree. Good luck with your bucket list!

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  10. How cool...I hope to see one someday. I can just imagine that its movements could be mesmerizing.

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    1. Cat, I have no idea if the dove tree grows anywhere in your area. You may have to come up here to see one
      : )

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  11. Hankie tree???? I've never heard of it!! It's beautiful! :o) Dang, now I want one!!

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    1. Tammy, a hanky tree should grow well in your warmer zone. Put it on the list!

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  12. If I ever see one of these for sale, I will have to buy it! I have wanted one for years. It is an unusual tree. I think it is beautiful!

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    1. Deborah, They are hard to find, which is why I was so surprised to see one for sale here locally years ago. Haven't seen one since, though. Nurseries don't like to sell trees that no one has ever heard of!

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  13. We have one here in Malmö (Sweden) in Rönneholms Park. I wonder if it can be grafted onto some other root stock?

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