Friday, May 15, 2015
Tree of the Year
From time to time, a tree will flower with extraordinary abundance. This year, the three dovetrees (Davidia involucrata var. vilmoriniana) at the Arboretum, growing near the Mercury Loggia and the Log Cabin, flowered with an intensity that surpassed any year prior.
The dovetree is rich in lore and history. It was first discovered in China in 1869 by the French missionary Armand David. Though known by reputation, the tree remained rare in the western world. In 1899, Sir Harry Vietch of the famed English Vietch Nursery, commissioned a young recent Kew graduate, Ernest Henry Wilson, to go to China to collect seeds of the dovetree. After much effort, Wilson not only succeeded in collecting seeds, but also went on to become a famed plant explorer, collecting and documenting more than 1,000 Chinese species, (some of which he shared with the Morrises’ fledgling arboretum). It was the search for the fabled dovetree, however, that first inspired his efforts in China.
The Arboretum’s largest dovetree is a multi-stem specimen just above the Mercury Loggia. This tree was acquired in 1954 as a cutting from Clement E. Newbold’s estate, Crosswicks, in Jenkintown. It “died” and was cut to the ground in 1984 and a young replacement was planted nearby. Amazingly, the dead plant re-sprouted vigorously the following year, rejoining the newly planted specimen in a cluster.
Dovetrees can take more than 10 years to reach flowering maturity, and many more years to flower heavily and reliably. The trees at the Arboretum usually bloom around the time of the Plant Sale in early May. In recent years, the dovetrees have all flowered reliably, but this past spring produced the heaviest flower set previously seen at the Arboretum on a dovetree.
In his 1929 book, China – Mother of Gardens, Wilson wrote, “To my mind Davidia involucrata is the most interesting and beautiful of all trees in the north temperate flora.” After observing this year’s Davidia display, it is easy to understand his enthusiasm!
Article and photos contributed by Paul Meyer, The F. Otto Haas Executive Director, Morris Arboretum