Growing Persian Ironwood

Autumnal Perisan Ironwood (Parrotia persica)
Getty Images/Francois De Heel

Parrotia persica is a small tree that works well in urban landscapes and usually does not fall prey to diseases or pests. The bark can also come in many shades of brown, gray, green, and white. It peels off attractively.

Like many species in the Hamamelidaceae family, Persian parrotia puts on a splendid fall color show. After the red-hued leaves unfurl in spring, they change to green as the year advances. In autumn they change again to become shades of orange, yellow and red.

Latin Name

This plant is a member of the Hamamelidaceae (witch hazel) family and has been designated as Parrotia persica. It is the only species in that genus. Other members of Hamamelidaceae that you can find in gardens include witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) and American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua).

Common Names

It is referred to as Persian parrotia, Persian ironwood, and parrotia.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones

For best results, this should be grown in USDA Zones 5-8. It is native to northern Iran, formerly known as Persia.

Size & Shape

This tree reaches a mature height of 20-40' tall and a width of 15-35'. It will reach a round or vase shape.

Exposure

This tree will grow well when located in a site with full sun or part shade. Trees in part shade will most likely have autumn colors that are more muted than those in full sun.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit

The leaves are oval with wavy margins. They first appear in a red shade in spring. Summer has them shifting to green. Before they fall off in autumn, the leaves change to red, yellow and orange.

The flowers on this tree are incomplete and appear before the leaves. They do not form petals, and the rich red parts that you start seeing in late winter are clusters of stamens.

Each flower forms into a capsule that is split in two. Each side holds one seed.

Design Tips

Since this tree is on the smaller side, it works well as a street tree where power lines are a consideration.

Parrotia persica is perfect as the specimen tree in a small garden.

If there are oak trees nearby, you may not want to plant this species. It is a known host for Phytophthora ramorum, the pathogen that causes sudden oak death.

The Persian parrotia can handle cold and hot temperatures, clay soil, air pollution, wind, and drought.

'Pendula' is a weeping cultivar of Parrotia persica that will only be 5-6' tall at maturity.

Other cultivars available include:

  • 'Bella'
  • 'Burgundy'
  • 'Felicie'
  • 'Het Plantsoen'
  • 'Horizontalis' - horizontal branching
  • 'Jodrell Bank'
  • 'Lamplighter' - variegated foliage
  • 'Vanessa' - columnar form

Growing Tips

Though this tree is able to adapt to a wide variety of soil conditions, the best results will come when it is planted in acidic soil that drains well. It does not like to have wet feet.

Propagation may be carried out through planting seeds or taking cuttings. Seeds will need periods of both warm and cold stratification.

Maintenance and Pruning

You will need to decide whether you would like this tree to have several trunks or just one. If you choose to have just one, you need to prune it to create a central leader when it is young. Most other pruning is for aesthetic reasons, such as branches forming in a direction where they are not desired.

Pests and Diseases

Another attractive feature of this tree is that you will have few if any problems with pests and diseases.