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Persian Ironwood

Several years ago the owner of a local nursery persuaded me to buy a Persian ironwood tree, Parrotia persica. It was only a two foot sapling, but he told me it was a special tree that deserved more publicity. I was intrigued so I brought it home and planted it in the area I call the Lady Garden.

Then I forgot about it. It was small and did not have much impact.

A few days ago I was outside looking over the garden when a bright spot of yellow in the Lady Garden caught my eye. Most of the fall foliage is gone now, so I walked down to investigate.

Why, there you are! Look at you, and when did you grow so tall?

I was admiring the parrotia tree, still glowing in buttery colors, though  the leaves were past their glory.

I was amazed when I realized my little sapling was taller than me now. Sort of like a teenage boy, it had shot up over the summer. By next year it will look like a real tree.

Parrotia is a native of Iran and will grow here in the US in hardiness zones 5-8. It is an easy care tree, tolerant of clay soil, air pollution, wind, and heat. It grows well in partial shade to full sun. Persian ironwood will be most successful and display best fall colors in moist but well drained acidic soil. It does not like soggy roots. In fact, it is drought tolerant after it is established, though it does need to be well watered its first year. It has few insect or disease problems and is also deer resistent. Perrotia will grow to about 30 feet tall and wide with an oval crown. It may have multiple trunks, or it may be trained to a single trunk with a central leader. Oval leaves up to five inches long and with wavy edges emerge reddish purple in the spring, then become deep green by summer. Prior to the leaves, small, spider-like flowers appear in clusters about 1/2 inch across. It is a member of the witch hazel family, and it is easy to see the resemblance to its cousins.

Top: A mature parrotia. Lower left: Parrotia leaves. Lower right: Parrotia flowers. (All three are public domain photos)

One of the outstanding characteristics of a mature specimen is the pinkish-brown bark, which exfoliates to reveal tan, pink, white and green patches, particularly notable in the winter.

Parrotia persica is a long lived, low maintenance tree that is an excellent specimen for year round interest. I am looking forward to watching mine mature.

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Reader Comments (17)

This really is a treasure of a tree. There was a small container one for sale at a local nursery here, a size that I could have planted myself, and I did not get it... kicking myself now.

I know what you mean about tree saplings dong nothing for a while, unnoticed, and then suddenly shooting up to tower over the gardener and have a real presence. I love when that happens!

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

I've seen several mature trees and they look fabulous, I'm glad yours is growing well. Christina

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

This is a tree worth investigating since its zones are 5-8 and I'm a 5A. It looks lovely and sounds indestructible!

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

Sounds like the ideal tree for you and your garden. Its wonderful when trees that you have planted start to make their presence felt, planting for the next generation?!

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

I've not heard of this tree before, but what a beautiful thing it is! It sounds like it would be perfect for my garden. I should really try to grow more trees.

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

Deborah what a beautiful tree...I love the bark and leaves as well...nice addition to your beautiful garden

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Sounds like a rewarding yet undemanding sort of plant that has done well in your garden :) due praises have been rightfully given !

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Very nice fall color.

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason

My sister has an ironwood in her garden and it is a great tree, we are in zone 5 Canada. Unfortunately not too many pepole know about it or grow it here. Our nurseries need to get on the ball with this one.

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersensiblegardening

Love the tree, first encountered a full sized specimen in San Francisco Arboretum. Always some orange, red and yellow in some leaves.

Someday i'll have one...

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterReed Pugh

What an interesting tree--I'd never heard of it before. Especially nice that the foliage lasts into late autumn.

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

I enjoy being introduced to specimens such as this. I suspect the bark of this one would be most appealing.

December 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

What I most like about Parrotia is like you mentioned, the bark. The mature tree is lovely.

December 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

You and I are SO alike! I have the cultivar 'Ruby Vase' which is more columnar and with even more gorgeous foliage. In fact it was one of the plants I featured in my article in Fine Gardening this month! Pretty sure it's also i at least one of my blog posts too - GREAT tree for foliage. bark and flowers.

December 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Chapman

What a lovely surprise, looks like you got good advice at that nursery.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

What a beautiful specimen tree. You really can see the resemblance to the witch hazel, especially in the flowers.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

Parrotia has been on my wish list for years but something always gets in the way of me buying it. Its ornamental characteristics are variable with some having great fall color and excellent bark and others being more ordinary. I love every plant in the witch hazel family.

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