Handkerchief tree © Christina Harrison/RBG Kew

Handkerchief tree

Handkerchief tree in Chinese script

Davidia involucrata

The handkerchief tree with its heart-shaped leaves is also known as the dove tree or ghost tree. In the spring creamy white bracts, folded round reddish flowers, flutter in long rows along the branches.

This ancient tree species is known from fossil records millions of years old. As the population in China has grown, the tree’s natural habitat has gradually been destroyed and it is now an endangered species. In recognition of this, the Chinese government has named it a protected plant.

The tree takes its scientific name from Father Armand David, a Franciscan missionary and naturalist based in China. He first described the tree in 1869 and introduced it to Europe.

Back to the list of plants and objects in China Landscape

Each tree species has a unique combination of cells. This section of heartwood shows the cell structure of the handkerchief tree.Father David (1826-1900) renowned collector of plants and animals.

Left:  Each tree species has a unique combination of cells. This section of heartwood shows the cell structure of the handkerchief tree.

Right: Father David (1826-1900) renowned collector of plants and animals.

Top left: © Christina Harrison/RBG Kew