Parrotia persica (Persian Ironwood)

Parrotia persica, or Persian ironwood, is a unique and beautiful winter-blooming specimen tree. Its unusual flowers emerge on leafless stems in late February and last for up to a month, providing valuable late-winter interest in the garden. Although blossoms are relatively small (only about ½ inch across), their bright red color and sheer profusion make for a wonderful display. Interestingly, the flowers themselves are without petals – the crimson stamens provide the show.

Parrotia persica has an overall habit that is upright and oval in shape; mature specimens can grow up to 40′ tall and 30′ wide. With age, trunks and larger branches begin to exfoliate, exposing a beautiful mosaic of gray, green, white, and brown bark. This feature adds considerable winter interest, and becomes more pronounced as the specimen matures.

Parrotia persica is a member of the Hamamelidaceae, or witch hazel family, which includes many other winter- and early spring-blooming shrubs and trees. It is native to northern Alborz mountains of Iran (formerly Persia; hence the common name Persian ironwood), but is widely hardy in much of Europe and North America and can be reliably cultivated between USDA zones 4-8. Its high tolerance of stressful environmental conditions, as well as its freedom from pest and disease problems, provide yet more reason to grow this outstanding plant.

Categorized as Plant of the Month

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  1. Can the plant of the month be found in the Scott Arboretum? If so – where?

  2. Yes, Parrotia persica is in several spots here at The Scott Arboretum. There are two nice specimens on both sides of the south entrance of Trotter Hall. To view other locations of other Parrotias and their cultivars, stop by the Scott Arboretum office and check out our Visitors Quick Finder kiosk where you can print a map of the Arboretum with the locations of several different Parrotias noted on it.

  3. I have a hedge made from 8 persian ironwoods and I think mine may have a disease too. The back of my hedge (which backs onto my fence) has lost a lot of leafage or they appear to have died (brown in colour) Could this be due to the late frosts we had?. On this years growth the leaves appear to have been eaten by something in a lot of cases. I’ve had them for 5 years and they are between 4-5 metres in height and I have had nothing like this in previous years. I’m not much of a gardener so can anyone please help?

  4. It sounds like you may have a host of problems that is not easily diagnosed via a blog comment. I would suggested you contact an local arborist to have problem diagnosed.

  5. I have seen different pictures of this tree and am wondering if it is more of a large shrub or are you able to walk underneath it like a typical tree. Do you have any other places you would suggest that I look to see more pictures?

  6. Lisa- Parrotia persica is a multi-stemmed tree that grows to between 20 and 40 feet tall. You can’t really walk under it because it is multi-stemmed. But it is definitely more a tree than a shrub because of its ultimate height. Let me know if you need any more info!

  7. I live in the Atlanta area. What is an appropriate/ substitute for the persian ironwood tree?

  8. I would think that the Persian ironwood, Parrotia persica would be fine in Atlanta?

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  9. I planted Parrotia at my previous home and absolutely loved it. I have moved and would like another but can’t find one to purchase anywhere. Any suggestions? I live in the north eastern part of Maryland.

  10. Gateway Nursery in Delaware would probably carry it.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  11. If you are a Scott Arboretum member, you can receive a 10% discount on plants at Gateway Garden Center if you show your membership card.

  12. I have recently moved to Aptos, CA, near Santa Cruz, and there is a Parrotia Persica on the hillside. It has about 2 ft of upright trunk and then splits into the trunk and one branch both of which are probably 4 to 5 feet long and nearly perpendicular to the lower trunk. I looks like it needs to be shaped or staked, but there is no way to straighten the trunk as it is. There are no other limbs on the tree, so I can’t see how to prune it. Any suggestions?

    Thank you

  13. Generally Parottia persica is a multi-stemmed tree, therefore, I would leave any branches that growing upwards. You may want to selectively prune some of the side branches back to the main branches if you feel there are too many branches.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  14. Will it damage the tree if I remove lower branches so that I can walk under it?

  15. Laura,

    If you are going to limb-up your Parrotia I would remove the branches in stages over a period of time. Too much significant pruning all at one time might over stress your tree.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  16. Hi, i need to paper about “pruning parrotia persica”. tanks

  17. hi i have some parrotias i am growing as shrubs(trying)…is there a special way of pruning this ??not too many shoots but the bottom growth (latterly) is heavy before shooting up .

  18. hi what are the other cultivars of parrotia? thanx, jim

  19. Prune Parrotia in the spring. A general rule for pruning should be the removal of dead or injured branches, as well as those that detract from the overall shape and appearance.

    Several cultivars exist, though availability may be scarce.
    * ‘Biltmore’ retains low branches and is noted for its large habit.
    * ‘Vanessa’ is an upright, columnar form.
    * ‘Henny’ is smaller than average and marketed as a dwarf.
    * ‘Kew’s Weeping’ – pendulous, slow growing form.
    * You may also come across several “forms” in relation to leaf color or size. Characteristics may be variable from one plant to the next.

    Parrotia persica ‘Henny’ is slated for sale at the 2011 Scott Associates’ Plant Sale. The sale will run from September 16-18, 2011.

  20. Can you please tell me a little more about the dimensions and characteristics of the ‘Henny’ variety ?

    Am wanting to plant the Parrotia persica as a street tree, but don’t want it growing so high as to obstruct views.

    Also hoping to gently prune so as to create a ‘standard’
    to enable me to mow around it.

    Thanks for your time.

  21. I guess while I’m at it, I should ask where the ‘Henny’ or
    the appropriate variety of Parrotia persica, (for ‘standardising’ and planting as a street tree) would be available for purchase.

    I live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

    Thanks again in anticipation.

  22. My Parrotia thrived for 8 years. It was a beautiful, wide shape, and about 18′ tall. Over the past two winters, it’s experienced dramatic die back. Initially, I didn’t remove it since it showed signs of life but after two seasons, it’s just too depressing to look at. I’d love to plant another, but worry I’ll experience the same problem. Is this sort of die back common in Philadelphia winters or do you think there’s something else causing it’s demise? I’m heartbroken.

  23. Hello. I planted my Parrotia eight months ago and it is now developing brown spots on most of the leaves. Would you know how to combat this disease or pest? Thank you.

  24. For the different cultivars, how big does the root system grow?

  25. The root system on a Parrotia is fibrous and should not cause too many problems, although it can be hard to establish perennials under a mature specimen.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  26. I have had one for About 8 years. It was damaged when purchased at a sale and died back to the ground. It has since grown to about an 8′ tree with some selective pruning and apears to be hardy iin NE Ohio. Its become one of my favorites with Japanese beetles being a slight problem.

  27. Larry,

    You should be able to thin out some of the stems and re-establish a nice looking Parrotia. Parrotia has exhibited very good hardiness. Some of the clones are from cold regions of Iran.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  28. Hello How would a Parrotia persica or henny do in Dallas with mild winters but long hot summers? Backyard garden can provide full to partial sun and is well drained/watered with system. Would love to have the fall colors

  29. i am from iran. i am very interest to parrotia persica. what is requirement for parrotia persica seed germination?

  30. Parrotia persica is often propagated from cuttings as the species roots readily. Literature regarding seed germination is less available; however, one source states that seed should be stratified (a period of chilling) for several months. Germination may take up to 18 months. Sow seed in the autumn and expect germination the second spring.
    Good luck.

  31. People… carries oak wilt within its lovely frame.
    Are you willing to trade its small beauty for the loss of your specimen white oaks?

  32. will Persian Ironwood grow well in full sun in contra costa county California?

  33. Yes, with irrigation.

  34. @grant chavez… Perhaps you meant sudden oak death (SOD)? —

    I believe the OWD pathogen is specific to Quercus.

  35. We have a well-established Parrotia in a south-west exposure (in the middle of our front lawn) that never turns any color but brown in the fall. We live near Fredericksburg, VA. What can we do to get the leaves to turn an attractive fall color? Yellow, red, orange… we’d like to have anything, other than brown. Thanks!

  36. In reply to Ernest Cruz’ question about P. persica growing in Contra Costa County, I have 2 trees in Pleasant Hill established about 21-27 years which are doing beautifully in Pleasant Hill. They are about 28-35 feet tall, multi-trunked and turn beautifully in the fall and look elegant when out of leaf. The bark is beginning to exfoliate nicely too. One of my all-time favorite trees. I also have the pendula form and ‘Vanessa,’ though they have not been in the ground long enough to have developed fully so far.

  37. HELP in finding a seller of the Horizontalis cultivar of the Persian Ironwood. This is the very dynamic, beautiful tree that is multi-trunked with Horizontal branches verse upward branches.
    I can only find sellers of Vanessa which is the tall columnar form.

    Thank you for your assistance.
    PS. I live in Colorado.

  38. I’m in Colorado (Loveland area) and have planted 2 Persian Ironwoods…I lucked out and found 4 specimens at Home Depot in Loveland a couple years back (heavily discounted – 50% off; $10 per plant for a 3-5 foot trees). The other 2 plants, I still have in pots. I bought another smaller one through Forest Farm nursery in Oregon through a mail order catalogue (this was before I found the bargain plants at Home Depot).
    Both Persian Ironwoods that I planted in the ground survived the first winter…..this last fall however, we had a bad sudden cold snap in early November. I think I have lost one of them and the other died 1/2 way to the ground but is leafing out now (was about 4 1/2 feet tall) – south exposure against a brick wall of my house. The other one was planted in the back yard (more of a East exposure) in an open area of the lawn and that is the one that I think might have died (no live side branches – I cut it 1/2 way to the ground).
    As far as fall foliage is concerned, the one on the south side of the house, turned yellow in late October/early November. The one in the backyard was still green when the below zero weather hit in early-mid November (the one I think might have died). The other potted specimens turned beautiful colors of red, orange, purple and yellow in late September/early October….these were located on the shaded, north side of the house. I brought them into the garage over the winter and all survived. Though they suffered some minor leaf damage this spring from bringing them in and out of the garage on marginal cold nights with night time temperatures in the 30’s and/or cold winds (when outside).

  39. The Persian Ironwood that I cut most of the way to the ground is growing back. I think it will be alright. I’m going to cover it up this winter. Too bad, I can’t say the same for my Paperbark Maple.

  40. Did you cut it to the grounds intentionally? Persian Ironwood has wonderful exfoliating bark that develops with age so this plant is not typically treated as a “cut-back plant”.

  41. Hi Mary,
    I cut it back since it was mostly dead and only alive at the base near the ground (the Ironwood planted with the worst condition). The freezing below zero temperatures severely hurt the plant since it hadn’t dropped it’s leaves yet (last November). It has grown about a foot from the ground this year. Though, it has a lot of side shoots, which I’ll have to thin out.

  42. Alan,

    That is a great idea. Remove any crossing, rubbing or dysfunctional branches. Let’s hope that we will be spared from another wicked winter!!

  43. In Bellingham, Washington State I have planted on my property three Parrotia persica. We have strong winds for our area. I have noticed that –notwithstanding advice on why not to top trees– heading cuts appear to callus over well, albeit with some watersprout behavior on the main stems (approximately 30% removal of canopy). I also noticed that these specimens appear to be rather aggressively plastic during the new growing season with regard to their ability of reforming extended lateral branches from the junction of said heading cuts. Otherwise, I think these Parrotias look quite healthy, like their full sun, and respond well to moist, well-drained soils.

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