Fall Color Series: Parrotia persica

December 20, 2019

Happy Hoildays Devil Mountain family!

A quick reminder that all our locations will be closed 12/24/19 – 1/6/20.


Today we are going to take a closer look at another fabulous fall color tree – Parrotia persica.

Parrotia is a genus of broad-leafed deciduous trees with a native distribution throughout Northern Iran and the Caucasus. A little-known member of the Hamamelis family, Parrotia is closely related to witch hazel and is colloquially called Ironwood, Iron Tree, or Persian Ironwood due to the hard quality of their wood. The botanical name for this genus honors the German naturalist, traveler, and medical practitioner F. W. Parrot who is known for his expedition up Mount Ararat in 1834, and expansive collection of botanical specimens throughout the Caucasus and Turkey. The specific epithet persica directly translates to “Persian,” hinting to the native range of this species in the former Persian Empire, Iran today.

-F. W. Parrot (Aleksandr Julius Klunder [Public domain])-

(Jean-Pol GRANDMONT [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Naturally occurring in a region known for its bulbs and perennial flora, Persian Ironwood is a noteworthy woody specimen in a landscape dominated with understory herbaceous species. These trees are said to be found growing from sea level to over 3,000’ of elevation; forming forests in association with other woody species such as Carpinus along steep slopes. Parrotia persica is considered to be a landscape species that offers year-round interest, however its flowers are not immediately noticeable; upon close examination one finds dense clusters of scarlet red stamens surrounded by inconspicuous brown, fuzzy bracts. Apetalous flowers are available long before leaves, making their first appearances as early as March on specimens observed in the Eastern US.

(AnRo0002 [CC0])

(Jean-Pol GRANDMONT [CC BY-SA 3.0])

New foliage begins to emerge in spring after flowers, first presenting reddish purple then maturing to deep lustrous green. Leaves are broad and similar in appearance to those of witch hazel, 3 – 4” long with a wavy, toothed margin. The arrival of fall sparks a dramatic shift in foliage during which leaves adopt shades of scarlet, maroon, gold, yellow, and pink before carpeting the earth below. If left to grow undisturbed Parrotia persica usually follows a multi-branched habit but may be trained as a standard tree up to 40’ tall and 15 – 30’ wide, topped with a broadly domed crown. Its trunk is lined in mottled, grayish brown bark that exfoliates to show under layers of white, silver, and tan. In its youth, like many trees and shrubs, the exfoliating quality of the bark is not immediately apparent but will become evident with age.

(A. Baker 2019)

(Plant Image Library from Boston, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0])

Persian Ironwood has no serious insect or disease concerns and has adapted to climatic regions like the coastal regions of Northern California, making it a handsome choice for a small-scale shade tree, as a stand-alone specimen, or an accent to a woodland garden here in the Bay Area. Best grown in full sun to light shade and well-drained, slightly acidic soil but will also tolerate alkaline soils. Here at the nursery, we carry Parrotia persica and the specific cultivar ‘Vanessa.’ ‘Vanessa’ is densely packed with foliage and narrowly upright, up to 30’ tall and 15’ wide. For the straight species we offer multi-branched forms in 7g and 36g, and standard forms in 15g and 24g. We offer the ‘Vanessa’ cultivar in 15g, 20g, and 24/25g.


Companion plants for Parrotia persica: Carpinus (Hornbeam), Pinus (Pine), Fothergilla (Fothergilla), Cyclamen (Cyclamen), Primula (Primrose), Epimedium (Epimedium)



Bailey, Liberty H., and Ethel Z. Bailey. Hortus. New York, NY: Macmillian General Reference, 1976.

“Parrotia persica.” Missouri Botanical Garden. https://bit.ly/2PIQYss.

“Persian ironwood.” The Morton Arboretum. https://bit.ly/2rddn7E.

“The New Sunset Western Garden Book.” edited by Kathleen Norris Brenzel, 74-77, 267. 9th ed. 2012.