Persian ironwood

Tree & Plant Care

Tolerant of a wide range of conditions. Prune after flowering in spring.

Disease, pests, and problems

Japanese beetles are a potential problem.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Iran.

Bark color and texture

The bark of young trees is smooth and gray. Mature trees show a distinctly mottled bark with patches of white, gray and green.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

The simple, alternate leaves are 2 to 5 inches long. The upper third of the leaf is very coarsely toothed, while the lower two thirds of the leaf is entire. Overall, the leaf closely resembles the leaf of witchhazel. Leaves are dark green in summer, changing to a mix of yellow, red and orange.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

The flowers which emerge in spring have no petals and so usually do not get noticed.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

The fruit is a small capsule; not ornamentally important.

Cultivars and their differences

Persian Spire™ Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘JLColumnar’): A cultivar with an upright-oval form; 25 feet high by 10 feet wide. New leaves emerge purple and retain some purple tint throughout summer. Excellent fall color (orange, red and yellow).

Ruby Vase® Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Inge’s Ruby Vase’): A cultivar with a narrow-upright form; 30 feet high by 15 feet wide. New leaves emerge red. Fall color is orange-red.

Vanessa Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’): Vase-shaped cultivar; 30 feet high by 15 feet wide. Fall color is orange-red.

Persian Parrotia

Native to the lower mountain slopes of the northern Alborz mountains in northern Iran and Azerbaijan, Persian parrotia (Parrotia persica ) has been widely cultivated in Europe and the U.S. (USDA Cold hardiness zones (4)5b-8b). This deciduous tree, which can reach a respective height and width of 40 and 30 feet, is cultivated for its beauty and durability. In the fall, Persian parrotia leaves turn yellow, occasionally mixed with shades of orange and red. On mature trees the attractive exfoliating bark flakes away to reveal splotches of beige, cream, gray, and brown inner bark. Due to Persian parrotia’s high tolerance to stressful conditions—heat, drought, and poor soils—along with its relative freedom from pest and disease problems, it deserves greater use in landscapes and streetscapes.

General Information on Parrotia

Mature Height/Spread: Species are quite variable in form. Expect Persian parrotia to grow 20 to 40 feet high and 20 to 40 feet wide. Young trees have an upright, oval habit that eventually widens with age and develops into a round, dome-shaped canopy.

The oval to oblong leaves have a wavy, coarsely toothed margin.
Robert F. Polomski, Ph.D., ©2018, Clemson Extension.

Growth Rate: Persian parrotia exhibits a slow to moderate growth rate of one to two feet per year. Shoot growth can be accelerated in landscapes with supplemental watering and fertilizing. Apply the appropriate kind and amount of fertilizer based on soil test results. For more information, see HGIC 1652 Soil Testing.

Ornamental Features: Persian parrotia is a member of the witchhazel family (Hamamelidaceae) that includes several shrubs that produce eye-catching floral displays in fall, winter, and early spring. Unlike witchhazel, loropetalum, and fothergilla, parrotia flowers are not as showy. The one-half inch wide apetalous (having no petals), red flowers with 5 to 15 strap-like stamens are borne along the leafless branches in late February and March. The flowers are more of a curiosity than a showy attribute and are followed by wooly chocolate-brown seed capsules..

The apetalous flowers are comprised of one-half inch wide clusters of straplike stamens cupped by fuzzy brown bracts.
Photo by Alex X. Niemiera, Ph.D., Prof., Virginia Tech.

Parrotia compensates for its floral display with its foliage. Its 2- to 3½-inch long witchhazel-like leaves with wavy margins emerge reddish-purple in the spring and mature to medium-green in summer. In the fall, the leaves typically turn yellow, while the color of some species and cultivars include blends of orange and red.

Peeling, flaking bark reveals a patchwork of green, white and gray blotches.
Robert F. Polomski, Ph.D., ©2018, Clemson Extension.A young parrotia has attractive smooth gray bark. As it ages, the outer bark on the trunk and branches exfoliates to showcase a jigsaw-puzzlelike display of cream, green, gray, and brown inner bark.

Landscape Use: Parrotia is not finicky about its location, provided it is in full sun to light shade and well-drained soil. Avoid planting in wet poorly drained or waterlogged soils. Parrotia has exceptional tolerance to heat and drought once it becomes established, and is well-suited for low water use locations that include streetscapes, highway medians, parking lots, and above-ground planters. In the landscape, take advantage of parrotia’s ornamental features and shade by using it as a stand-alone specimen or as an accent tree near a deck or patio. Plant parrotia in groups or use it as a backdrop in a mixed border of herbaceous perennials, flowering shrubs, and broadleaf evergreens. Selectively remove the lower limbs to accentuate its attractive, mottled trunk.

Problems: Parrotia is relatively pest- and problem-free, provided that the tree is properly sited and planted. Japanese beetle damage has been reported. It tolerates acidic and alkaline soils, extreme heat, drought, wind, and urban conditions.

Cultivars

‘Biltmore’- This clone was derived from a tree in the Biltmore Gardens, which is over 100 years old. It has a broad, densely branched, vase-shaped habit, and a blend of yellow, red, orange, and purple autumn-colored leaves.

Persian parrotia at the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC showcases attractive mottled bark on its trunk and branches and a multicolored display of fall foliage.
Photo courtesy of Jason Warren, 2015, US Nursery™.

Persian Spire™ (‘JL Columnar’ PP#24951) – This cultivar has an upright-oval form and grows 25 feet high by 10 feet wide. The new leaves emerge purple and mature to green. Fall color is orange, red, and yellow.

Weeping parrotia (Parrotia persica ‘Pendula’) at the SC Botanical Garden possesses a spreading rather than pendulous habit and attractive red fall color.
Robert F. Polomski, Ph.D., ©2018, Clemson Extension.

‘Pendula’ – Several weeping cultivars are available in the trade that grow 6 to 10 feet high and wide. The best form is ‘Kew’s Weeping,’ a slow-growing, umbrella-like form with cascading branches. The original plant was selected from seedlings at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, England in 1934. It reaches a height of 11 feet and a width of 14 feet.

‘Vanessa’ is a vase-shaped cultivar that grows 30 feet high.
Photo courtesy of Eric Hofley, Michigan Gardener.

‘Vanessa’ – This vase-shaped cultivar grows 30 feet high and 15 feet wide and has golden yellow fall color. It was named the 2014 Urban Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists.

Related Species & Hybrids

Chinese parrotia (Parrotia subaequalis) is native to the high elevation forests (2000 feet) in eastern China, where it reaches a height of 20 to 30 feet. Its peeling bark creates a mottled patchwork of greenish white patches. This rare species produces brilliant red fall color. The growth habit and environmental tolerances are similar to Persian parrotia.

Persistent yellow, fall-colored leaves of x Sycoparrotia semidecidua in February at the SC Botanical Garden.
Robert F. Polomski, Ph.D., ©2018, Clemson Extension.

x Sycoparrotia semidecidua is an offspring of an intergeneric cross between Parrotia and Sycopsis sinensis. This Asian relative originated around 1950 in Basel, Switzerland. This small tree reaches a height of 10 to 15 feet and tolerates heat and drought as evidenced by plants growing in Aiken, SC and the SC Botanic Garden in Clemson. The semi-evergreen, leathery leaves turn yellow-green to yellow in the fall and persist into winter. Unlike parrotia, its smooth gray bark does not exfoliate.

The Persian parrotia, also called persian ironwood, often displays an assortment foliage colors. When growing, the leaves emerge red-purple and then mature to a dark green. The leaves then change to shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall. The tree’s flowers are petalless, though have dense maroon stamens. With age, the tree’s bark becomes marked with creamy white, green, and gray spots, giving it a unique look.

Family: Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel)

Characteristics: The oval to oblong leaves emerge red-purple and mature to be 2 ½ – 5 inches long and dark green. In the fall, leaves turn yellow, orange, and red. The tree’s flowers are petalless and have dense marron stamens. They appear in late winter to early spring, before leaves emerge. Bark is smooth and gray when the tree is young and begins to exfoliate and develop white, gray, and green spots with age. This tree grows as a small upright tree or a large and rounded shrub. It grows 20-40 feet high and 15-30 feet wide.

Foliage: Deciduous (leaves lost seasonally)

Geographic Origin: Iran (non-native)

Cultivation Notes: Requires medium maintenance. Does best in full sun, though can tolerate part-shade. Prefers acidic, moist, and well-drained soils, though is tolerant to a wide range of soil types.

Number on Campus: 1

Sources: Dirr, Morton Arboretum, Missouri Botanical Garden

Persian Ironwood Parrotia Persica Stock Photos and Images

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  • Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica), flowering branch, native to Iran and the Caucasus, garden plant
  • An unseasonably early honey bee (Apis mellifera) in February on Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) flowers collecting pollen amd nectar from one of t
  • The flowers of a Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)
  • Autumn Colour Persian Ironwood (Parrotia Persica)
  • Leaves of a Persian Ironwood ( Parrotia persica ) Tree in Summer
  • Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) leaves in autumn colours, native to Iran against white background
  • Persian Ironwood Tree, Parrotia persica, Hamamelidaceae, Iran and Caucasus
  • Persian ironwood ,Parrotia persica, red autumn leaves
  • ‘Vanessa’ Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) street tree, Hackney, London N1
  • Autumn colours leaves of oak, ivy and Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) on forest floor during The Fall in The Cotswolds, UK
  • Persian ironwood tree (Parrotia persica), leaf detail in autumn
  • Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) leaves.
  • parrotia persica persian ironwood early spring flowering flowers small red opening unfurling bloom blossom
  • Parrotia persica
  • autumn foliage colours of persian ironwood tree parrotia persica
  • Parrotia persica, Persian ironwood in autumn, Arboretum national des Barres
  • Parrotia persica. Winter flowers of a Persian ironwood tree – January, UK
  • Parrotia persica. Spidery blooms of the Persian ironwood tree in winter – February, UK
  • Yellow autumn foliage of Persian Ironwood, Persian Parotia, Hamamelidaceae, Parrotia Persica
  • Iron wood leaf in autumn
  • An unseasonably early honey bee (Apis mellifera) in February on Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) flowers collecting pollen amd nectar from one of t
  • The flowers of a Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)
  • Persian Ironwood bark (Parrotia persica)
  • Leaves of a Persian Ironwood ( Parrotia persica ) Tree in Summer
  • Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) leaf in yellow autumn colours, native to Iran against white background
  • Persian Ironwood Tree, Parrotia persica, Hamamelidaceae, Iran and Caucasus
  • Persian ironwood ,Parrotia persica, red autumn leaves
  • Persian Ironwood Tree, Parrotia persica, Hamamelidaceae, Iran and Caucasus
  • Autumn colours leaves of oak, ivy and Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) on forest floor during The Fall in The Cotswolds, UK
  • Parrotia persica ( Persian Ironwood ) in Autumn
  • Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) leaves in autumn.
  • parrotia persica persian ironwood early spring flowering flowers small red opening unfurling bloom blossom
  • Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica). Closeup of foliage in autumn colours.
  • autumn foliage colours of persian ironwood tree parrotia persica
  • Parrotia persica, Persian ironwood in autumn, Arboretum national des Barres
  • Parrotia persica. Winter flowers of a Persian ironwood tree – January, UK
  • Persian Ironwood, leaves in autumn (Parrotia persica)
  • Yellow autumn foliage of Persian Ironwood, Persian Parotia, Hamamelidaceae, Parrotia Persica
  • Iron wood leaf in autumn
  • Parrotia persica. Winter blooms of the Persian ironwood tree – January, UK garden
  • The flowers of a Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)
  • Branch of a Persian Ironwood (lat. Parrotia persica)
  • Persian ironwood tree (Parrotia persica)
  • Parrotia persica. Persian ironwood tree leaves in autumn. UK
  • Parrotia persica leaves in autumn.
  • Persian ironwood ,Parrotia persica, red autumn leaves
  • Parrotia persica, leaves in Autumn.
  • Autumn colours leaves of oak, ivy and Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) on forest floor during The Fall in The Cotswolds, UK
  • Parrotia persica ( Persian Ironwood ) in Autumn
  • Autumnal leaves from Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood)
  • parrotia persica persian ironwood early spring flowering flowers small red opening unfurling bloom blossom
  • Parrotia (Parrotia persica) leaf, autumnal discolouration, native to the northern Iran and the Caucasus
  • Parrotia persica foliage in autumn
  • Parrotia persica, Persian ironwood in autumn, Arboretum national des Barres
  • Parrotia persica. Winter flowers of a Persian ironwood tree – January, UK
  • Persian Ironwood
  • Yellow autumn foliage of Persian Ironwood, Persian Parotia, Hamamelidaceae, Parrotia Persica
  • Parrotia persica
  • Parrotia persica. Winter blooms of the Persian ironwood tree – January, UK garden
  • The flowers of a Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)
  • Changing colours of Parrotia persica in the autumn
  • Parrotia persica (Persian ironwood) spring flowers
  • Parrotia persica. Persian ironwood tree leaves in autumn. UK
  • Parrotia persica leaves in autumn.
  • Persian ironwood ,Parrotia persica, red autumn leaves
  • Parrotia persica leaves in autumn.
  • Parrotia persica, leaves in Autumn.
  • Parrotia persica ( Persian Ironwood ) in Autumn
  • Autumn leaves of Parrotia persica Persian Ironwood hamamelidaceae Iran closeup close-up. Very red leaves.
  • Close-up pf Persian ironwood tree Parrotia persica leaves in fall, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • Parrotia (Parrotia persica) leaf, autumnal discolouration, native to the northern Iran and the Caucasus
  • Parrotia persica foliage in autumn
  • Pencoed, Wales UK. 8th October 2018, UK Weather: Signs of Autumn taking hold as leaves of Persian Ironwood(Parrottia persica) begin to turn colour. Credit: Phillip Thomas/Alamy Live News
  • Parrotia persica. Winter flowers of a Persian ironwood tree – January, UK
  • Persian Ironwood, leaf in autumn / (Parrotia persica)
  • Yellow autumn foliage of Persian Ironwood, Persian Parotia, Hamamelidaceae, Parrotia Persica
  • Parrotia persica. Foliage of the Persian ironwood tree in autumn, UK
  • Parrotia persica. Winter blooms of the Persian ironwood tree – January, UK garden
  • The flowers of a Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)
  • Persian Ironwood, leaf detail in autumn / (Parrotia persica)
  • Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)
  • Parrotia persica. Persian ironwood tree leaves in autumn. UK
  • Parrotia Persica tangled branches
  • Persian ironwood ,Parrotia persica, red leaves, garden foliage autumn
  • Parrotia persica leaves in autumn.
  • Parrotia persica, leaves in Autumn.
  • Parrotia persica ( Persian Ironwood ) in Autumn
  • Persian Ironwood
  • Persian ironwood leaves (Parrotia persica). Photographed in November at RHS Wisley, UK.
  • Persian ironwood flowers
  • Parrotia persica foliage in autumn
  • Pencoed, Wales UK. 8th October 2018, UK Weather: Signs of Autumn taking hold as leaves of Persian Ironwood(Parrottia persica) begin to turn colour. Credit: Phillip Thomas/Alamy Live News
  • Autumn colour – Persian Ironwood tree
  • Persian Ironwood, leaf in autumn / (Parrotia persica) | Persischer Eisenholzbaum, Blatt im Herbst / (Parrotia persica)
  • Yellow autumn foliage of Persian Ironwood, Persian Parotia, Hamamelidaceae, Parrotia Persica
  • Persian Ironwood, leaf detail in autumn / (Parrotia persica) Persischer Eisenholzbaum, Blattdetail im Herbst
  • Parrotia persica. Winter blooms of the Persian ironwood tree – January, UK garden
  • Persian Ironwood Tree, Parrotia (Parrotia persica), twig with blossoms, studio picture.
  • Autumn tree leaves on a Parrotia Persica or Persian Ironwood tree
  • Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)

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Outstanding Qualities

Vanessa’ is a selection of Persian ironwood that develops a more upright, columnar habit than the species. This durable tree is beautiful in every season, as its foliage, branch structure and bark are all exceptional. Its leaves are oval shaped with somewhat scalloped edges. They emerge green edged with burgundy, maturing to midgreen in summer. In late August, they begin their sensational autumn display, turning bronze, then crimson, followed by orange and finishing brilliant gold. This show goes on into October. Its branching habit is irregular, providing an eye-catching change from most shrubs and trees. In winter, when its exfoliating grey-and-tan bark is revealed, this picturesque tree makes a dramatic feature. Its tiny, spidery, red flowers are produced in late winter and early spring, before the leaves. Although it is related to witchhazels, its flowers are not fragrant. Underplant it with epimediums, Helleborus x hybridus and any spring-flowering bulbs. Its autumn foliage can be complemented with Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’, Aster lateriflorus ‘Prince’, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, Penstemon ‘Black Bird’ and Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’.

Quick Facts

Plant Type: tree

Foliage Type: deciduous

Plant Height: 15 ft. 0 in. (4.57 meters)

Plant Width/Spread: 10 ft. 0 in. (3.05 meters)

Plant Height-Mature: 40 ft. 0 in. (12.19 meters)

Plant Width-Mature: 20 ft. 0 in. (6.10 meters)

Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 8

Flower Color: red

Sun/Light Exposure: full sun or light to dappled shade

Water Requirements: drought tolerant when established

Colors & Combos

Great Color Contrasts: gold, silver, burgundy

Great Color Partners: dark green, blue

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