Persian parrotia

January 5, 2021

…Bare branches in winter are a form of writing.

The unclothed body is autobiography…

– Billy Collins

Plants with winter seasonal interest include evergreens of pine, spruce, holly, yew, sequoia, fir, along with diverse others. A few non-evergreens catch our eyes in winter with multi-colored, mottled bark such as plane-tree and stewartia. Another one is Persian parrotia, Parrotia persica.

Also commonly referred to as Persian ironwood, this is a 15-40-foot-high tree, native to northern Iran and Azerbaijan. In youth this tree begins by having smooth brown bark which over time matures on its trunks and older branches into a peeling puzzle of brown, tan, gray, green and silvery-white. This notable ornamental asset fulfills a cliché as it gets better with age.

The genus Parrotia includes only two species and is a close botanical relative to witch hazel, winter hazel, and fothergilla, all included in HAMAMELIDACEAE, the witch hazel family.

It’s simple, alternate, 2 ½ – 6-inch-long leaves have an uneven base, wavy outer margin, shallow rounded teeth above the mid-leaf and a rounded apex tip. Their shape is similar to numerous other species within the family. Of special interest is their spectacular fall color, often a vivid yellow-gold, but with some a rich orange or crimson.

Ornamental winter bark and reliable autumn color while generally being free of disease and insects are sufficient reasons to plant these trees. Just as well, as the flowers are inconspicuous. Emerging before the leaves in April, these are without petals, showing only a tiny cluster of reddish stamens, interesting at best.

As with the Franklin tree, Jeffrey pine, Engelman spruce, Siebold hemlock, rudbeckia, perovskia and buddleia among others we may add Parrotia to our game of “who grows in our garden.” Parrotia honors Friedrich W. Parrot (1791/2-1841), German naturalist, explorer, mountaineer. In 1829 he led the first successful expedition to the 16,854-foot summit of Mount Ararat, which today remains of symbolic importance to many Armenians.

On a future visit to Mount Auburn look for Parrotia on Chestnut Avenue, Citron Avenue, Raven Path or Daphne Path to vicariously go to the summit of Mount Ararat or to just examine up close the unusual colorations of bark.

Winter Trees

All the complicated details

of the attiring and

the disattiring are completed!

A liquid moon

moves gently among

the long branches.

Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.

– William Carlos Williams

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →

3 Comments

  1. Mary Liz Lewis says:

    Fabulous close up picture of Parrotia bark. Another bark favorite of mine is Ulmus parvifolia, Chinese Elm which also has striking yellow Fall color that holds late.

  2. Sherley says:

    The combination of fabulous photos and lovely poetry is trademark Jim! Looking for the Parrotia as I walk the grounds this winter will be fun. Thanks, Jim. Hope we can walk together soon.

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