Some plants need the slant of the morning sun to be appreciated, others possess an intoxicating fragrance. The Dove Tree, or Davidia involucrata, is at its best when the wind rushes through the leaves, lifting the white bracts so they twist and turn and dance. They flutter. It’s like watching music. The rhythm sweeps through the branches, breathing life and creating patterns. It seems to come alive with the wind. Like when I’m playing disc golf and I throw a disc, it comes alive in the air. The breeze can give it unintentional purpose. Disc golf, Dove trees, discovery. I started playing disc golf last year and it’s not easy for me, but I love it. Slowly, slowly I learn new skills and improve my game, but it’s always two steps forward and one step back. Just like watching the wind dance through the leaves of the Dove tree, there’s nothing better than watching a disc fly through the air and glide through the trees. The breath of life.
The double pure white blossoms of the Mount Fuji flowering cherry opened last month and I knew that was my favorite tree. It called to me on my walks and I kept getting drawn to it. My dog tried to get me over where the grass smelled like several shades of pee, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of this tree. Petals so white, so light, they seemed to be made of some other-worldly matter that drifted down from the stars. The buds, slightly pink, opened to a clear true indescribable white. Well, let me try to describe. It’s definitely not just plain old white. It’s not snow white, or paper white or milk white, but maybe moon or star white. At a glance it appears a light joyful, carefree white, but upon inspection, it’s alive with colors. So many colors of the rainbow are swirling around those blossoms that they all crash into each other and explode into white. Light, bright, shining spring white. When I stand under that tree, gazing up at thousands of soft petals, the future and the past become irrelevant. There is only the here and now. It’s as if that Mount Fuji flowering cherry has the power to pull me into the present like no other life form. I am here, surrounded by color, and all I see is white full of light. But then the dog insists on pulling me over to the next clump of sweet-smelling grass and it’s back to the future. Hey, is that a Kwanzan Flowering Cherry? Those petals are so pink, like nothing I’ve ever seen before…
Like any good member of the Hamamelidaceae family, the Parrotia tree has a lovely winter bloom. It’s so small and often high up in the tree that it often goes unnoticed. Thanks to a keen student observation, we were able to enjoy this surprising little dash of color in our school arboretum this month. Parrotia persica is an all-around good tree. Glossy green summer leaves, blazing autumn color and a fucshia pink bloom in February. Another favorite (there are so many….)
As I was exploring the Wellington Botanic Garden today I had a chance encounter with a very unusual tree. Near the Lady Norwood Rose Garden I met a Banksia integrifolia or Banksia on a steeply sloped hillside. The first thing I noticed were the unusual seed pods, or woody cones that were persistent all over the tree. They have such an interesting shape and are covered with valves that are like little mouths that are open or closed. The leaves were distinctive with their narrow elliptical shape and serrate margins. And then I saw the bark which is full of texture and I knew I had to find a seed and try and grow this little beauty back home. I was hesitant to pluck anything off a tree in a botanical garden, but luckily I found an old cone on the ground nearby. Almost all of the valves were closed on the one I found, I might have to burn it to release the seeds. A bit of research showed that this small tree is native to Australia and is named after the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks. The flowers form cylindrical cones in May, June and July (winter) and are pale green or yellow. They appear to be an important nectar source for birds during this time of the year. There are several Banskia species in New Zealand, all from the family Protoaceae. It is supposed to be fairly hardy, growing in all soil types and can even tolerate a short amount of freezing weather. I hope I can make it home with a seed!
I’m collecting trees. I’m collecting them but not planting them in my yard or writing them into books. I’m creating a small forest in my mind, a woodland edge of heart shaped leaves and twisty curly needles. This collection that is slowly growing is my list of all-time favorite trees. As time goes by I announce my favorites ‘I’m only happy under a Snowbell’ or ‘The Dove tree is the best because it blooms on my birthday’. And as the years go by my interests change and grow. It usually begins with an unexpected encounter such as a vision of loveliness or a soft fragrance. It’s also the timing, such as finding the Dove tree blooming on my birthday in May. Or a tree might suddenly appear just when its needed, like the Coast Redwood with its thick, huggable bark. A new friend! The Dove tree is definitely in my collection and this year I had the opportunity to watch its new spring growth, to see the unfolding of the leaves and the unfurling of the bracts. Like baby doves, the leaves and bracts slowly opened in April and were fully fledged in May. This year was earlier than usual, perhaps by two weeks. Here are the early stages of Davidia involucrata, just one of the favorites in my collection. What are your favorites?
Just the Facts
Davidia involucrata Dove Tree, Handkerchief Tree
Size 20-40 ft. (6-12m) High and Wide
Hardy to zone 6
Slow to medium growth Rate
Deciduous, Blooms white bracts in May
Prefers light shade
I wouldn’t have noticed this tree unless I saw the sign right in front of it. Most signs aren’t very interesting but when they’re in front of plants I stop and read them. This one stated that when in flower, Azara smells like milk chocolate. What?! A chocolate plant? Yum….I immediately stepped into the under story of this suddenly fascinating plant and was surrounded by the warm delightful smell of chocolate. It was 7:30 in the morning on a brisk March day and I was experiencing the unexpected. What a surprise to catch the scent of chocolate coming from a plant instead of from the kitchen. What a strange and sweet species. Azara is named after an eighteenth century Spanish patron of botany, JN Azara. It comprises a genus of 10 species of evergreen shrubs and trees from South America. The azara tree usually grows on the edge of woodlands and near lakesides. The leaves are simple, alternate and glossy and the fragrant flowers are small and petalless with showy stamens. Azara microphylla is one of the hardiest species for our region and was introduced from Argentina to Europe in 1861. It’s a favorite to those with limited space, only growing 3-12′ tall. It’s described as having ‘vanilla’ scented yellow spring flowers. Vanilla or chocolate? Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of our imagination. Either way, it’s a great addition to the scented garden.
Variegated Stellar Pink Dogwood (Cornus kousa x Cornus florida) I’ve seen trees like this before. On the Monrovia site you can find three variegated Cornus kousa; Samaritan, Wolf Eyes and Summer Fun, but they all have white flowers. As the human race is constantly searching for the next new thing, now arrives the variegated dogwood with a Pink flower. Dogwoods always look so spindly and minimal when they are young, but a mature dogwood can take your breath away. It has to be in the top three for spring flowering trees. Flowering cherries, Magnolias and Dogwoods. Three reasons why spring is the best. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one grows. It has green leaves with white margins and mottled hues of green and white in several shades turn multi-colored in the fall — pink, yellow, purple and green simultaneously. Flowers are profuse, large and pink, covering the small tree in spring for several weeks. It is said to be highly pest and disease resistant. Grow in full sun in northern climates and part shade in warmer areas. Grows 10–15 tall and wide.
Marley’s Pink Snowbell (Styrax japonicus ‘JL Weeping’) The world will never have enough snowbell trees, so I welcome any new varieties. You may know that I have a thing for this tree. I love a mature spreading canopy of a traditional Snowbell, but I”m intrigued with this new little one. Marley’s Pink Snowbell has a weeping habit, pink flowers and leaves that are significantly larger, glossier and less pubescent than other known cultivars. June flowers are vibrant pink and bell-shaped. It grows up to 8 feet tall and 4–5 feet wide at maturity. Out of these three new trees, this is the one I want!
Winchester Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo) Another lovely little thing that I’m curious to see in its mature state. There are an amazing variety of Pines and I think they provide an essential element to the garden. Green in winter, structural and a contrasting texture to broad leaf plants. This petite mugo seems to be bursting with life. ‘Winchester’ is a dwarf mugo pine chosen for its tidy, semi-upright form, which differs from other dwarf mugo cultivars. It maintains its dense body, making it suitable for small spaces. Tiny, short needles add year-round color and texture to the garden or container. Grows 3–4 inches annually, reaching a mature height of 2–3 feet in 10 years. Tolerates poor soils and dry conditions, as well as full or part sun.