I read about Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) in one of my gardening magazines about 12 years ago. I’m a sucker for trees and shrubs with exfoliating bark, and the description of the bark of this tree sounded like a worthy addition to my growing collection of special plants.
Native to Iran, this tree is a member of the Witch Hazel family (Hamamelidaceae), which means it blooms early and relatively inconspicuously, but it’s not the flowers that sell this plant. In fact, I’ve never actually caught my tree in bloom; I’m not even sure it does bloom, although I think I’ve found dried-up remnants of flowers when the leaves begin emerging.
My tree is only now getting big enough for the bark to begin exfoliating. In his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael Dirr notes that branches must attain diameters between 4-8 inches before exfoliation commences. Luckily for me, this tree has another attribute that was immediately obvious during its first autumn in my landscape. See the photo at the top? That was taken this past November. This tree looks that fabulous every single autumn, and the leaves persist on the tree for almost a month. Like a glowing golden magnet, this tree in its autumn splendor draws praise from all who see it. Here’s a close-up of the leaves from last November:
Dirr says this tree will mature to a height between 20-40 feet, so it’s a good fit for suburban Piedmont landscapes. And it seems to be pest and disease free. I always worry about a non-native plant’s potential to become invasive, but all reports seem to agree that this tree politely stays where it is planted. To see a photo of this species in bloom, try here.
As you can see in the top photo, the leaves create quite a dense cover during the growing season, so I must wait for every winter to admire the bark. I did so this morning. Here’s most of the tree:
You’ll note that some leaves are still clinging to the tree. Botanists call this being tardily deciduous. Still, enough of the leaves fall so that branches can be admired. Here’s a closer shot:
My apologies for the less-than-ideal photo. The morning light and my camera were not entirely cooperative. If you could see these branches a bit more closely, you’d notice that they are just beginning to show signs of exfoliation. I am hopeful that this will increase quickly now that the branch diameters seem to have attained the required size.
Many of the exfoliators in my landscape have reddish-brown bark — the Bald Cypresses, for example. Another non-native — Seven-Son Flower Tree — has almost pure white bark. The bark of Persian Ironwood reminds me a bit of the color of my American Beeches or my Ironwoods, but they don’t exfoliate. In my yard, this tree is near a Stewartia and a cluster of blueberries, both of which have reddish-brown exfoliating bark. The Persian Ironwood thus provides pleasing visual contrast in my winter landscape.
I have a feeling that if my tree does bloom, it’s likely to happen soon. This year, I’m going to make a special effort to watch for the flowers of this Persian beauty. If I succeed, I’ll be sure to let you know.