Lady Sunshine Dove TreeDavidia involucrata ‘Lady Sunshine'
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Davidia involucrata ‘Lady Sunshine'
Outdoor Growing zone
Partial Sun, Shade
The Lady Sunshine Dove Tree is a very rare and coveted small tree, grown mainly for its spectacular foliage. The large, heart-shaped leaves have a very broad outline of pale yellow to near-white, with a jagged central area of dark green. This is a truly beautiful tree, growing slowly to 10 to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide. It is perfect for a partially-shaded woodland garden or bed, in areas where rhododendrons and camellias grow well. In time it may produce the famous white flowers, like the wings of a dove, that this tree is named after.
Choose a spot in partial shade for the Lady Sunshine Dove Tree, to protect the leaves for scorching. Some morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal, or the shade beneath deciduous trees. The soil should be moist, acidic and well-drained, with plenty of organic material added, and as mulch. It grows best in moderate climates like New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Pacific Northwest and northern California.
If you have graduated in your gardening from growing only common, ‘easy’ plants, and want to add something special, unique and rare to your collection, then the Lady Sunshine Dove Tree is exactly what you are looking for. The almost mythical Dove Tree grows in southwestern China, and it has been admired and lusted after by gardeners ever since its discovery 150 years ago. The lust many gardeners have is reduced by the fact that this plant can be demanding, and only grows in a limited part of the country, in suitable soils and conditions. It also takes years to flower, but if you grow ‘Lady Sunshine’, its gorgeous variegated foliage will keep it fascinating while you wait for those amazing blooms. Pure white, the blooms flutter in the tree exactly like a flock of white doves, or handkerchiefs, as some people call this tree. The leaves of the Lady Sunshine Dove Tree have broad edges of pale yellow to near-white, with a green heart, so this tree is beautiful from the moment you plant it. Go on, you know you want to do it.
The Lady Sunshine Dove Tree is a slow-growing upright deciduous tree that will reach 10 or 15 feet in height, with a width of around 8 feet. It should in time grow larger, as the parent tree can reach as much as 40 feet in ideal situations, so 20 feet is certainly possible. When young it is upright, becoming broader with age. The leaves are between 4 and 6 inches long, heart-shaped and rounded, with a long tip. Both surfaces are covered with a soft down, thicker on the underside. The edges are jagged, cut with irregular serrations, and we could consider the leaf to be green, with a broad, jagged pale-yellow border, or pale-yellow, with an irregular green heart. The variegation is pronounced and striking, with much of the leaf being yellow. The color varies from light gold to near-white, depending on the season and levels of shade. In fall the leaves could turn pink to orange, but that depends very much on your location and the seasonal weather, so it is not always going to happen.
In time – we can’t say when, but 4 to 10 years is probably reasonable – you should see the first flowers on your tree. These are spectacular, and the reason this tree is so coveted. Appearing in May, the actual flowers are a small, hardy-noticed cluster hanging on a stalk, but this is surrounded by a pair of large, pure-white, leafy bracts. The larger one is about 7 inches long and 4 inches wide, and the smaller one is 4 inches by 2 inches. They hang together as a pair, and flutter in the slightest breeze like a bird’s wings, making a tree in bloom one of the most spectacular events in the garden.
Choose a spot in partial shade where this tree can be seen and appreciated. It is perfect in areas where you grow rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas, such as an open woodland area with tall deciduous trees. It could also be grown in a bed with shrubs, if the light and soil are suitable.
Zones 6 and 7 are best for growing the Lady Sunshine Dove Tree, although it would probably grow in zone 8 as well, in suitable soil, and certainly in warmer areas with cool, moist summers such as the Pacific Northwest and northern California.
Although the dove tree would normally grow in full sun, the variegation of this variety needs some protection, or it will scorch. Grow it with morning sun and afternoon shade, or in filtered shade from tall overhead trees. The ideal soil is moist, acidic, well-drained and rich in plenty of organic material. Prepare the ground well with lime-free organic material and mulch with more, regularly. This tree is not drought resistant.
If you have a suitable location, this tree should succeed with little attention, except for watering and mulching. No pruning is needed other than to remove any dead twigs.
The dove tree, Davidia involucrata, was first seen by a Westerner when it was discovered in 1869 by Abbé David in the Muping district of western Sichuan. It is also found in nearby Hubei province. He was a priest and a naturalist who found many new plants in China. The first seeds weren’t sent to the west until 1903 and 1904, by ‘China’ Wilson, a famous plant collector who at that time was working for the English nursery of Veitch, although later he worked for the Arnold Arboretum, at Harvard University. Since then several new forms have been created, mostly in Japan, and the variety called ‘Lady Sunshine’ originated there.
We love having such beautiful and rare trees to offer our clients, and we know you will love adding this remarkable tree to your collection. We only have a very limited number of plants available – they are almost impossible to find – so if you want to add something really special to your garden, do it now.