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Dove tree takes wing

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
May 22, 2017

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Dove tree takes wing

“To my mind Davidia involucrata [the dove tree] is at once the most interesting and beautiful of all trees of the north-temperate flora.” Coming from Ernest Henry Wilson, the intrepid early twentieth century plant explorer for the Arnold Arboretum (and Veitch Nurseries before that), that is some mighty high praise! Right now, our magnificent 1904 (5159*A) specimen is in full bloom (upper image) with thousands of pairs of dove wing-like bracts fluttering in the breeze. In a week, it will all be over, the ground covered with a carpet of white.


 

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This stunner of a tree produces flowers that lack any petals (or sepals). In the lower left image, you can see a tight purple cluster of male flowers (this was last week) made up of pollen-producing stamens. A closer examination reveals what looks like a small green “hand” emerging from the purple ball. This is the pollen-receiving end of the sole hermaphrodite (pollen-producing and seed-producing) flower in this tight cluster. In the upper image (going on right now), the stamens have extended and started to dehisce. In the next few days, the spent stamens will fall away, once again revealing the female parts of the sole hermaphrodite flower (lower right image), which will develop into a largish fruit (an inch) over the course of the summer.

The Arboretum’s centenarian dove tree on Chinese path (Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana; 5159*A) is a clone of the first dove tree to leave China (as a seed, in 1897) and grow in the West (at the arboretum of Maurice de Vilmorin, in France). The fact that in 1931, when this specimen first bloomed, Oakes Ames (second director of the Arnold Arboretum and eminent orchidologist) wrote that “from an aesthetic point of view it has little to recommend it” suggests to me… well, I would rather not say.

P.S.  Lilacs still going strong, azaleas in flower everywhere, early rhododendrons awake, tree peonies weighed down with huge blooms, ants pollinating the wheel tree (Trochodendron) on Chinese Path, flowering spikes in the buckeye and horse chestnut collection dazzling. Come.

One thought on “Dove tree takes wing

  1. This is an extraordinary tree. I am lucky the the speciment in my garden here in West Hartford, CT bloomed for the first time this year. Your close-up pictures will get me up on a sturdy step ladder to take a closer look than is possible just standing underneath.

    Your postings remind me of the importance of deliberate observation. What we miss by being in a hurry.

    Thank you.

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