Rare tree in bloom at Dunster Castle

A tree, rarely found in the UK, is currently in flower at Dunster Castle, near Minehead, the National Trust has said.

The warm, dry weather over recent months has meant that the unusual handkerchief tree has started to bloom earlier than usual. It can be found in castle’s river garden.

When fluttering in the breeze, the flowers look like a collection of hankies or white birds ruffling their feathers, meaning it is sometimes known as the Dove Tree (Davidia involucrate).

Visitors will be able to see the tree for around three weeks when it flowers, until the end of May.

Handkerchief in flower – image copyright: National Trust/John Miller

Legend has it that the plant was brought to the UK as a cutting by a former lady of Dunster Castle, Alys Luttrell, in her handbag from South Africa. A keen gardener, it was planted by Alys at the castle in the mid-1900s.

The National Trust spokesperson said: “Alys loved flowers, took pride in the garden, and was an avid plant collector, so when she knew that she was heading for the British Isles, she insisted on bringing some plants with her.

“Alys also collected many plants that came from many different holiday trips. These can be seen in the river gardens and throughout the property. The Dove Tree may be seen in summer in our wonderful River Gardens located beside the mill.”

Native to central China, the handkerchief tree is the only member of its genus. This species was discovered in 1868 by French missionary and naturalist Père Armand David, after whom it was named.

However, the plant’s introduction to western gardens in 1904 was down to nursery owner Sir Harry Veitch, and his plant collector, Kew-trained Ernest “Chinese” Wilson.

“The survival of the tree at Dunster Castle is testament to the skills shown by Alys Luttrell in being able to bring this plant to Dunster, and the safe-keeping of the plant by National Trust gardeners,” the trust spokesperson added.