What is Parrotia?

Soo Owens

Parrotia is a genus of deciduous trees characterized by distinctive foliage and ease of maintenance. It is a member of the Hamamelidaceae family and contains only one species, the Parrotia persica. The Parrotia persica is also known as the Persian ironwood tree. Parrotia persica is native to the forests surrounding the Alborz mountains in northern Iran. It does not grow naturally anywhere else in the world. The trees can however, be planted in numerous other regions despite their limited geographic origin.

Parrotia persica is native to the forests surrounding the Alborz mountains.
Parrotia persica is native to the forests surrounding the Alborz mountains.

There are two forms of the Parrotia. The first is a smaller, single-trunk tree capable of growing as tall and wide as 40 feet (12 meters). The second is a larger, multi-stemmed shrub formation that grows to about 15 feet (4.5 meters). The tree is trained in nursery fields, which allows it to develop into a number of shapes that include upright forms with limbs that do not begin to spread until nearing the top. A broader design involves a more bushy appearance, with limbs sprouting near the base of the trunk and growing out horizontally.

The Persian Ironwood's smooth bark peels when it reaches maturity. The bark is a pinkish-brown color normally and is shed as the tree ages. When the bark exfoliates, shades of green, pink, and cinnamon are revealed underneath.

The trees are considered quite desirable in landscaping and gardening. In late winter or early spring, before the leaves develop, the ironwood's petal-less blossoms display vibrant red stamens. While these red blossoms can be attractive, their presence is generally considered functionally insignificant. Later in spring the leaves adopt a reddish-purple hue that becomes glossy dark green in summer. In the fall, the foliage becomes yellow, orange, and deep red, and the changes in color can last for a significant period of time. The Parrotia persica is peculiar in that its fall color change begins at the top of the tree and proceeds downward.

Parrotia persica should be planted in the spring, in soil that is fertile and well drained. If a highly vibrant autumn foliage is desired, then the ironwood should be planted in acidic soil. The tree prefers light shade if grown in hot summer areas or direct sunlight in cooler summer climates. It does not require much pruning.

In the event of a drought, the Parrotia persica must be watered heavily during its first year. Otherwise, the Parrotia transplants very easily, typically living 50 years at minimum, and is susceptible to only a few problems, including Japanese beetles, which can cause minor leaf damage.

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