Northeastern’s Dove Tree


Northeastern is becoming known for its beautiful campus. The carefully curated urban forest is a qualified arboretum and includes over 160 species of trees. One of those is the dove tree (Davidia involucrata), a rare tree native to south-central China. It’s growing next to the walkway between Cullinane and Hurtig by Robinson quad.


“Aside from its story, when the tree is not in bloom, there’s nothing particularly interesting about it. Even when it’s in bloom, the flowers emerge so high up in the in the canopy of the tree that unless you’re either constantly looking up, or someone’s brought it to your attention, you’re not going to notice the event,” said Steve Schneider, Director of horticulture and grounds at Northeastern.


But, for the five to seven days it is in bloom, it’s unlike any other tree on campus. The dove tree has small discreet flowers that are surrounded by big, showy, white, modified leaves called bracts. These bracts look a bit like doves, or handkerchiefs or ghosts, which is why the trees are also sometimes called handkerchief trees or ghost trees.


Finding Davidia in the wild in China is becoming more and more difficult due to habitat loss. It’s also not a popular landscaping tree for several reasons. One is that the white bracts only last about five to seven days. Another is that it takes a number of years for the tree to establish itself in its planting space before it starts blooming at all. “The more popular flowering trees out there are ones that are blooming in the nursery and attract people,” Schneider said.


The dove tree is also difficult to grow from seed. “It takes about two years to get one of the seeds to actually germinate, and that’s after you have given it a series of warm and cold treatments and you’ve used a file to cut a notch through the thick seed coat. Once you get it growing it’s not that difficult, but it’s just really difficult to get that seed to germinate.”


The dove tree on the Boston campus is 12 – 14 years old, and stands about 25 feet tall. “It can handle quite a bit of shade, but the more light it has, the more blooms it will put out. This particular tree is shooting toward the sky because it’s looking to get to more light.”


For about 360 days of the year, the dove tree looks like any other tree. But for a magical five days in mid-May, it’s definitely worth a look.



Written by Adam Doucette – 6/14/2022

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