Number 65 on Mount Auburn’s “Most Unusual Trees” map, the Parrotia persica is a small, slow-growing deciduous tree native to the Alborz mountains of northern Iran and is more commonly referred to as Persian Ironwood.
Named after Friedrich W. Parrot, a German naturalist and the first European to climb Mount Ararat in 1829, the Parrotia persica belongs to the Hamamelidaceae or Witch Hazel family and shares the low branch structure and alternate, 3-5 inch-long oval leaf shape of that group of trees.
Throughout the autumn season, the Parrotia persica displays a spectacular array of fall foliage – with leaves changing from bronze to crimson, to purple, pink, peachy-orange and finally to gold. With leaf-drop in late November and early December, the twisting and overlapping patterns of the trees smooth and sinuous branches are revealed.
As Parrotia persica assumes age, the smooth bark begins to exfoliate, creating a striking patchwork of flaking, mottled color – pale grays, tan-greens, rosy-pinks, creamy-whites and cinnamon-browns – not unlike the calico or camouflage-like patterns seen on the branches of the Platanus × acerifolia or London Plane Tree growing a few yards to the north on Chestnut Avenue (number 84 on Mount Auburn’s “Most Unusual Trees” Map).
Similar in other ways to members of the Hamamelidaceae family, Witch Hazel in particular, Persian Ironwood is a late-winter, early-spring blooming specimen tree. In late February and early March, unusual, apetalous “flowers” – small reddish-lavender colored powder-puff stamen clusters – emerge on leafless stems and create a glowing, purple-haze effect around the otherwise bare branches of the tree.
*This Horticulture Highlight was orignally published in the December 2008 issue of the Friends of Mount Auburn electronic newsletter.