City Trees

September/October 2016

City Trees is a premier publication focused on urban + community forestry. In each issue, you’ll learn how to best manage the trees in your community and more!

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Page 39 of 39

Tree of Merit: Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata) 40 City Trees In a day and age where plant collecting from far off lands is viewed with (perhaps appropriate) scrutiny due to concerns related to importing invasive pests, the world of urban trees and botanical gardens owes a debt of gratitude to Ernest H. Wilson. He was the famous British botanist of the late 1800s/ early 1900s who is ascribed with having successfully intro- duced the dove tree (Davidia involucrata) to the West from its native China. For any of us who have had the pleasure of seeing this tree in bloom, it is truly memorable. Reaching reported heights of up to 40 feet/13m with a varying spread, the dove tree prefers full sun or part shade and moist, well-drained soil. Therefore, sites like city parks, cemeteries, gardens, and greenways may prove suitable. It is hardy in Zones 6 to 8 and has no serious pests or diseases. The dark orange/rust colored bark offers four seasons of interest, and fall color is variable but can be showy red or orange. The big reason the tree is planted is for its handkerchief appearance in late spring, provided by two large white bracts that surround a much more subtle red inflorescence. Thus another of its common names is "handkerchief tree"; it's called "dove tree" because it was thought that when viewed from a distance, the bracts fluttering in the breeze looked like perched white doves. Some patience is required; reportedly it can take up to 20 years for a seedling tree to start blooming. Plant the tree in a place with some wind protection to keep the flowers from being pummeled. The tree produces edible fruit the size of golf balls, which appear in June and persist into the winter. During the course The showy bracts of dove tree • Photograph by Myrabella, distributed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Dove tree bark • Photograph by Chhe at English Wikipedia, Public Domain of ripening, the fruit turn from green to purple, then to yellow and finally brown. Due to fruit drop, this tree should probably be avoided for use near sidewalks and parking lots. Though not officially imported to North America until 1904, this tree from the Nyssaceae family has long roots in this continent: fruits have been found in the fossil records in Alberta, Canada that date back 60 to 100 million years! It might take a little detective work, but finding and planting a dove tree could add a beautiful new dimension to a suitable site in the urban envi- ronment. —Rick Harper, Extension Assistant Professor of Urban & Community Forestry, UMass Department of Environmental Conservation

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