Chinese Dove Tree is a deciduous tree under the genus of Davidia in the family of Nyssaceae. It is also known as dove-tree or handkerchief tree. It is native to South Central and Southwest China provinces including Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces. Listed as National Class One protected plant, Chinese Dove Tree enjoy the same protection status as Giant Panda.
It is a moderately fast-growing tree, normally growing to 20–25 m in height. Its leaves are heart-shaped with serrated edges. They are mostly found in humid and misty forest with an elevation range from 1500 to 2000 meters. In some areas, large number of Chinese Dove Trees are found growing in big patches. The most noticeable part for the Chinese Dove Tree is its ‘flowers’. Every year from April to May, the branches of Chinese Dove Tree will have some hanging white flowers, resembling white doves perching in the tree. That is why it is called Chinese Dove Tree. In fact, they are not flowers but flower bracts. The real flower is the purple globose part hiding between two white bracts. It consists of one multiple staminate flowers and one pistillate flower, can be easily ignored. After blooming, a small pear-like fruit will come out. The little flesh coming with the fruit is acid and not good to eat with very hard core inside. So it is locally called ‘ Water Pear’ or ‘Wood Pear”.
The first specimen of Chinese Dove Tree was collected by Armand David, a missionary and natural scientist from France in Baoxing County of Sichuan Province in China. In April of 1869, he saw a tree with elegant white flowers in the mountain at the elevation of 2000 meters. He collected specimen from this tree and sent to Paris. In 1871,a botanist named Henri Baillon announced a new plant species and genus with the name of Father David. Later on another plant hunter from Scotland named Augustine Henry found another Chinese Dove Tree in Three Gorges of Yangtze River, collected the specimen and sent it to Kew Gardens. Sir Harry Veitch also hired plant hunter named Ernest Henry Wilson to go to Three Gorges of Yangtze to search for that tree but found the tree had been cut for house construction by the time he got there. Later he found a small patch of Chinese Dove Tree on a steep slope. On the way back to England, the boat Wilson took wrecked. However he managed to save the Chinese Dove Tree specimen he had collected.
In 1904, the seedling of Chinese Dove Tree were brought to Europe and then North America. The westerners were amazed at the most beautiful tree from the north temperate zone and the tree was widely introduced to the gardens of European and American countries. On the other hand, in its homeland China, we rarely see the Chinese Dove Trees planted along roads or in the gardens. You can only find them in few botanical gardens. We hope Chinese Dove Trees can appear in our streets in near future.
Since we can not enjoy Chinese Dove Trees in our neighborhood, where can we see them in the wild. Though listed as the Class One Protected plants, there are huge number of Chinese Dove Tree grown in the wild, especially in Sichuan Province. It is not rare a news like a thousand hectare of Chinese Dove Tree has been found appeared in the news. If you go to the mountainous areas of Sichuan Basin, you have good opportunity of finding Chinese Dove Tree in places like Mt. Emei, Longcanggou of Yingjing and Mt. Wawu. Now these places have very good infrastructure, it is very easy to go there to enjoy the elegance of Chinese Dove Tree.