921 Parrotia persicaCommon Names: Persian ironwood, Persian parrotia Family: Hamamelidaceae (witch-hazel Family)
Persian ironwood is a small deciduous tree that grows 15-30 ft (4.6-9.1 m) in height. It is grown for its distinctive spreading habit, its brilliant autumn foliage display, its showy exfoliating bark and its curious late winter ruby red flowers. Cultivated specimens usually have a single, relatively short trunk which forks near the ground, and a rounded crown composed of wide spreading, horizontal, arching, or even drooping branches. Older specimens develop a crossing and overlapping pattern of branches and may have crown spreads greater than their heights. (Wild Persian ironwoods in their native forest habitat have upright, ascending branches.)
The leaves of Persian ironwood look much like those of the related American tree, witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) - they are alternate, coarsely wavy edge toothed above the middle and 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) long. The lustrous dark green leaves turn bright yellow, orange and purplish red in the fall. Persian ironwood is attractive when not in leaf, too: the smooth bark on the trunk and larger branches peels and flakes, creating a mottled patchwork of green, beige, white and gray blotches. The flowers are a showy curiosity. They have no petals; what you see are spiderlike clusters of ruby red stamens borne along the naked branches in late winter, before the leaves emerge. Several cultivars are available. 'Pendula' gets only 5 ft (1.5 m) tall and 10 ft (3.1 m) wide with spreading branches that droop at the ends.
Persian ironwood, Parrotia persica, is native to Persia - northern Iran and the Caucasus of Georgia and Turkey.
CultureThe slow growing Persian ironwood is one tough little tree. It is virtually free of pests and diseases, and tolerates acidic to alkaline soils, heat, drought, wind, urban air pollution and soil compaction. Best fall color is produced on specimens growing in acidic soil in full sun. Light: Full sun to light shade. Moisture: Established specimens of Persian ironwood are drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Persian ironwood prefers cool climates and may not be the best choice for zone 8 landscapes. This little tree performs best in zones 6 and 7. Propagation: Seeds require pretreatment before they will germinate and still germination may take more than a year. Best to just plant seeds in containers outdoors in a cold frame in autumn and then be patient. Persian ironwood is, however, easy to propagate from cuttings taken in spring or summer and rooted under mist.
Use the hardy and tolerant little Persian ironwood as a specimen tree in a small lawn, in a woodland opening, as a street tree, or for plantings around parking lots. Smaller cultivars are used as anchors for foundation plantings and shrub borders. Prune off lower branches to show the attractive peeling bark, or allow the lower branches to remain to maximize the natural grace of Persian ironwood. The handsome form, brilliant fall foliage and attractive winter bark make the slow growing Persian ironwood an outstanding accent in any landscape.
The genus Parrotia includes only this one species. Other members of the family Hamamelidaceae commonly found in cultivation include witchhazel, sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), witch-alder (Fothergilla major) and loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense).
Steve Christman 4/6/01; updated 2/27/04