Posts Tagged Persian Ironwood

Blooming Today

Now that winters here in central North Carolina no longer even try to remain cold for more than a few days at a time, something in my yard blooms every month of the year. Most of the plants currently blooming are not native to my region; they are non-invasive ornamentals I planted years ago, and they do all attract pollinating insects on days warm enough for them to fly. Here are a few photos of what I saw as I walked our five acres this morning. Note that you can click on any photo to see a larger image.

Flowering Apricots (Prunus mume)

Both of my trees are struggling with a fungus that will likely kill them in a few more years. The beauty and fragrance of their flowers is intoxicating on a chilly winter day. The local honeybees always visit when the weather is warm enough for them to fly. I’ve forgotten the name of the pale pink-flowered cultivar, but the deep rose-colored bloomer was sold to me as cultivar Peggy Clarke, although there appears to be some debate about that.


These non-natives are so poisonous that the deer do not even nibble them. Mine are spreading, and I am currently attempting to eliminate them from the landscape, because they migrating into the area where a substantial natural population of bloodroots flourishes.

January Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum)

This early bloomer is often mistaken for forsythia, which actually blooms almost a month later in my yard. Despite the name, it has no fragrance, but it is not invasive, pollinators visit the blooms, and the cheery flower color brightens cloudy winter days.


These two are smaller species that bloom before the bigger ones usually seen. The cottontail rabbits always devour them shortly after their buds appear, unless I spray the plants with a deterrent.

Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica)

This non-native tree has spectacular exfoliating bark and golden autumn leaf color that stops all visitors in their tracks. It is in the witch hazel family; its inconspicuous flowers are tiny, but pretty when viewed closely. On warm days, honeybees visit the tiny flowers.

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)

I planted this non-native dogwood-family member because its bright yellow flowers appear very early, and because its fruits are supposed to be favored by wildlife. Unfortunately, my plants never set fruit. It has been suggested that I need another one that is not genetically related to the two I’ve got. I’m mulling on that. Meanwhile, the small bright yellow flowers undeniably light up the winter landscape.

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)

This beloved herb has flourished for years nestled among large boulders in a front garden. Not native, of course, but it seasons many of Wonder Spouse’s culinary masterpieces. It blooms off and on all year, but always produces an initial burst of blue flowers in late winter.

Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’)

This beauty is technically native to the Ozarks west of here, but for me that’s plenty native enough for here. You cannot argue with its abundant knockout-gorgeous purplish strappy flowers, and its fall leaf color is also quite spectacular. The strong, clean fragrance of the flowers carried by a chilly late winter wind lifts my spirits every time I catch a whiff.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Although technically not quite yet in bloom, these swelling flower buds point to an imminent explosion of red flowers within the next few weeks. I believe their arrival is the first true sign that spring approaches. Even before these native trees start, the local elm species (Ulmus spp.) open their inconspicuous flowers to unleash their pollen on winter winds. They started doing that here yesterday. I know, because my allergies went crazy as soon as I stepped out the door yesterday and today. I must now pack tissues for every walk around the yard.

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Fruiting bodies, not flowers, I know, but these beauties stopped me in my tracks on this morning’s walkabout. My friend with fungus knowledge assures me that these are edible oyster mushrooms, but we’ll likely leave them for local wildlife to enjoy. They are growing at the base of a fungus-killed tulip poplar. Fun fact I learned when I researched this mushroom: it is carnivorous. Its mycelia kill and digest nematodes, likely as a way to obtain nitrogen.

The weather seers are calling for cold rain for most of the next two weeks. Today’s blossoms will likely turn to watery mush. However, more blooms are imminent. Some will be late flowers on the above plants, but many more flowers of other plants will appear before long.

During breaks in the weather, my friend and garden helper, Beth, and I — sometimes with the additional aid of Wonder Spouse — are attempting to clean up overgrown sections of the yard. The task is eternal, especially because it is constantly slowed by unanticipated discoveries — new plants in unexpected places, sleeping frogs, friendly Ruby-crowned Kinglets curious about what we’re doing.

It is those surprises that prevent the work from becoming drudgery, and they help this aging gardener hold on to the child-like sense of wonder that gets me out of bed every morning in time to catch the day’s sunrise.

, , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Year’s End Walkabout

I spent an hour or so yesterday morning walking around our five acres with my camera to record the state of things as this year draws to a close. The weather here in central North Carolina has been alarmingly warm and we are struggling with moderate drought. However, a bit of rain fell the previous day, and gloom persisted yesterday as rain fell to our south. Winter, the forecasters say, will return on the second day of the new year, shocking plants, animals, and humans alike, I imagine.

Winter vegetable garden beds with row covers tucked beside them.

The warm spell has been a gift to our winter vegetable garden. In past years, I have kept them tented all winter beneath row covers to protect them from freezing temperatures. Severe cold will turn the greens and broccoli to mush, but beneath row covers, lows into the mid-20s for a few hours do the veggies no lasting harm. This latest warm spell has been so prolonged that I’ve been able to remove the row covers to give the veggies access to full sun. I even gave them all a dose of fish emulsion/seaweed mix this week. Winter fertilizing is not something I am usually able to manage, because I don’t want to expose them to prolonged cold.

Beauteous Emerald Crown broccoli

We harvested several heads of broccoli — I’m trying Emerald Crown this year — which we will be enjoying with tonight’s dinner. Broccoli doesn’t do well here as a spring crop anymore. The days warm up too quickly. But winter’s chill sweetens them as they grow beneath their row covers.  The row covers also protect them from cabbage moth caterpillar damage without the need for any pest control substances.

The greens are all doing great. I’m averaging one salad a week by picking individual leaves. Beet greens provide a bit of zip to the mix of lettuces and spinach. The warm spell accelerated the growth in this bed visibly. I may get two salads out of it next week.

Winter-blooming flowers — all but one non-native — are opening. Pink blooms of one flowering apricot were scenting the air yesterday. Today, the other one also began blooming. I look forward to the perfume from these flowers every year.

A stink bug — alive and well at the end of December!

January jasmine, which has no fragrance, is also beginning to open its bright yellow flowers that are often mistaken for forsythia. When I leaned in to photograph this flower, I was surprised to find it occupied.

Today, I noticed that my non-native Persian ironwood is beginning to bloom. This tree is in the witch hazel family, and the flowers are not showy, but I have observed honey bees visiting them.

My native witch hazel ‘Amethyst‘ has already begun to bloom. Typically, it waits until middle-to-late January. This shrub insists on holding on to its leaves, but it’s still quite lovely in bloom — and its fresh scent never fails to lift my spirits.

Most of the berry-producing shrubs in our yard have long been picked clean, but the red berries of native deciduous holly and the deep purple berries of native greenbriar vines were still visible when I walked around yesterday.

A few shrubs are still holding on to their autumn-colored leaves, including my  native oakleaf hydrangeas. I grow the smaller form, ‘Pee Wee,’ and I recently added a full-sized one, cultivar ‘Alice.’

Dried seed heads of cardinal flower and goldenrod also caught my eye, as did an ever-increasing abundance of bald cypress knees emerging from the muck where three trees I planted three decades ago have now attained heights between 40-50 feet.

Bared tree branches reveal their complex beauty during this leafless season. I was especially enthralled yesterday by a young winged elm. Its corky extrusions along its trunk and every branch made its silhouette quite striking.

Even during this time of moderate drought, the new channel that cuts through what was for 25 years dry, flat floodplain merrily chuckles its way toward a growing wetland pond, home to at least two dozen ducks. I have accepted the fact that this part of the floodplain is now a wetland. And, I must admit, the permanent streamlet that now traverses that area adds an air of tranquility to the landscape.

Never have I been more grateful for my lifelong passion for gardening and the natural world. I am certain the dirt perpetually beneath my fingernails is largely responsible for the retention of my sanity during these challenging times. I know that you, my readers, understand this. Here’s to a new year filled with fruits, vegetables, flowers, pollinators, and ever-dirty fingernails.

Happy New Year!







, , , , ,


Current Blooms Vie with a Spectacular Sunrise

What a way to start the day!

What a way to start the day!

Before the clouds closed in, our day started with the eastern sky ablaze with color, the air filled with bird song and frog calls. And because this day was preceded by a day packed with warm air and sunshine, I have a few flower shots to share.

Every late-winter/early-spring-blooming plant I grow is 3-4 weeks later than usual in blooming. Not that I blame them! That was one rough February for all of us. My trees, shrubs, and bulbs have bided their time, but they couldn’t contain themselves any longer when sunshine and warmer temperatures finally returned.

Dwarf crested iris showed up with the early crocuses.

Dwarf crested iris showed up with the early crocuses.

The little bulbs showed up first. The snowdrops got flattened by our snow, but the crocuses and little irises were not far along enough to be damaged. So delicate and lovely!

Witch hazel 'Aurora'

Witch hazel ‘Aurora’

My three-year-old Aurora witch hazel exploded in orange-yellow strappy petals that emit a sweet, clean fragrance detectable on the breeze.

Witch hazel 'Amethyst'

Witch hazel ‘Amethyst’

My Amethyst witch hazel starting blooming about a week before Aurora, but it is still quite pretty.

first daffodils

Every year I can remember, the Ice Follies daffodils are first to bloom. But not this year. This year, the big yellow ones — I think they are King Alfred’s — bloomed first. As of yesterday, the Ice Follies were not quite open still.

Cornus mas

Cornus mas

My small Cornelian cherry dogwoods (Cornus mas) are lighting up the landscape with their small, bright yellow flowers. Individually, the flowers aren’t much to look at, but when they cover an entire plant, you can’t help but notice this tree.

A closer look at the flowers of Cornus mas.

A closer look at the flowers of Cornus mas.

Hellebores abound!

Hellebores abound!

This year, the Lenten Roses actually waited well into Lent before beginning to show their bloom faces.

Hellebore flowers tend to point downward, but they are worth the effort required for closer inspection.

Hellebore flowers tend to point downward, but they are worth the effort required for closer inspection.

Magnolia 'Royal Star'

Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’

My past records tell me that my Royal Star magnolia often begins blooming in early February. This fuzzy shot is of the handful at the top of my 25-foot-tall tree that opened in yesterday’s sunshine.

Male catkins of native hazelnut

Male catkins of native hazelnut

The afternoon sunlight did a nice job of enhancing the color of this hazelnut’s golden catkins, the male flowers. I looked for the tiny female blooms, but didn’t see any.

Parrotia persica flower and friend

Parrotia persica flower and friend

This one surprised me. My beautiful Parrotia persica tree always blooms this time of year. Its flowers are small and inconspicuous, because they are wind-pollinated. Evidently, my neighbor’s honeybees still managed to find something in them worth visiting.

Red Maple flowers high in a canopy tree

Red Maple flowers high in a canopy tree

Not to be left out of the act, the forest giants are beginning their bloom cycles too. The elms have been blooming for a couple of weeks, as my allergies will testify. Now the treetops are punctuated with the crimson flowers of the Red Maples. Some of the trees have orange-tinged flowers like these, but others have deeply scarlet blooms.

A crocus closing for its nightly slumber.

A crocus closing for its nightly slumber.

My beleaguered ornamental flowering apricots are also still pushing out flowers. Their landscape impact was severely impaired this year by the prolonged cold. But when the wind blows from the south, I still get an occasional whiff of Peggy Clarke’s perfume.

All in all, I’d say March is treating my landscape with lamb-like kindness — so far, at least. Here’s hoping it remains a kinder month than that brutal February we all endured.

Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke' still perfumes occasional breezes with her cinnamon-sweet scent.

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ still perfumes occasional breezes with her cinnamon-sweet scent.


, , , ,


Expanding Your Garden

Great Blue Heron about to take flight into the new year.

Great Blue Heron about to take flight into the new year.

The handsome creature above was kind enough to park itself on a large oak in our backyard on a cloudy New Year’s Day. Wonder Spouse grabbed my camera (it was closer) and managed to catch the Great Blue Heron just as it tensed before gliding down to the creek. As we can imagine the bird’s great wings expanding wide for flight, so can we imagine ways to expand our gardens.

Over the decades, I have become a more selective gardener. In early years, I planted any plant offered me, and rarely looked farther than my local stores for transplant possibilities. I am now much more selective, saving the diminishing choice spots in my yard for specimens like the Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) I’ve told you about before here.

In that post, I mentioned that I’d never seen my specimen bloom. Having read that the flowers are inconspicuous, I thought perhaps I’d overlooked them on my tree. But now I’m fairly certain that my tree had simply not bloomed for me — until now. Now all the upper branches are covered in fat flower buds just beginning to show hints of maroon petals within.

Those are all fat flower buds on the high branches.

Those are all fat flower buds on the high branches.

I finally found one bud within reach of my camera that was showing the color of the strappy petals.

Lower branches are still holding on to browned leaves, but the reddish tinge of flower petals is visible here.

Lower branches are still holding on to browned leaves, but the reddish tinge of flower petals is visible here.

The flowers are not showy, unlike the spectacular fall color display of the leaves. But their appearance expands the presence of this specimen tree, making it a magnificent year-round addition.

My garden expands as my transplants mature and prosper, but I have other ways to increase my garden’s presence in the world — by sharing it with others.

Like most gardeners, I’ve been giving away plants for many years. Some special plants just love to multiply, and it gives me great pleasure to share them. My shared wealth expands my garden’s reach to both ends of my home state and many points in between. I hear from the owners of those distant gardens when one of my garden babies blooms. It’s fun, for example, to hear whose daylily bloomed first and for how long.

It delights me to know that sometimes my garden expands itself by transferring the gardening bug to others. A housemate from graduate school — a city girl with no experience with the green world when we first met — told me years later that she plants a vegetable garden every year now. Working the garden with me — and tasting the results — persuaded her of the benefits of this pursuit. I am thrilled every time I manage to bring another soul over to the green side.

In recent years, I’ve expanded my garden in other ways. I grow extra vegetables each year, so that — weather and pests permitting — I can share them with friends and the local food bank. The Garden Writers Association sponsors a formal program to foster this idea. They call it Plant a Row for the Hungry.

You can do likewise in your garden. Or if you don’t have space for a food garden in your yard, consider helping with a community garden. The university in the town adjacent to mine runs a successful community garden program on campus. The bounty is shared with university staff and other community members who want to supplement their diets with fresh-grown produce.

And the land conservancy organization in my region supports what it calls the Local Farms and Food platform of their mission by allowing local food banks to operate community gardens on some of the arable lands being preserved by this organization. Arable land — an increasingly scarce commodity in my rapidly urbanizing area — is not just preserved, but put to its best use.

I’m sure my region isn’t the only place with such garden-expanding opportunities. If you are inclined to try expanding your garden in such ways, check with your local colleges, food banks, and land conservancy groups. If they aren’t already growing food to feed the hungry, maybe you can help get such a program started.

I also expand my garden by sharing it with friends who need a little extra beauty in their lives. Last year, I cleaned up and planted a tiny garden space at the home of a friend battling a major illness. Knowing she would be spending many days recuperating at home, I hoped that this small plot full of color would lift her spirits. Because she likes to cook, I also planted a pot full of culinary herbs that could sit on her patio, a few steps from her kitchen.

This year, another friend recovering from a major health challenge has a lovely empty garden space beside her new house. She is excited about planting this area with native flowers that will bloom enthusiastically and attract pollinators. I’ve begun potting up some of my garden multipliers for later spring transplanting to her new bed. And during yesterday’s absurdly mild weather here, I took cuttings of rosemary and Spanish lavender, placing them in a flat in my greenhouse. By the time spring arrives, they will be well-rooted and ready for new homes.

Rosemary and lavender cuttings will root easily in the greenhouse in a few weeks.

Rosemary and lavender cuttings will root easily in the greenhouse in a few weeks.

In my opinion, every southern Piedmont home should have a few rosemary shrubs growing nearby, for enhancing culinary masterpieces and inhaling their aromatically therapeutic properties.

As the years make my joints creakier, expanding my physical garden at home will likely become impractical. But I will always be able to expand my green world in these other ways.

As you readers of this blog plan your own spring and summer gardens this year, I encourage you to expand your thinking beyond your personal garden space. Whose life can you lighten by sharing your garden this year?


, , , ,

Leave a comment

Fall Finale

Stewartia monadelpha

Stewartia monadelpha

Recent very cold nights have caused most of my trees and shrubs to surrender to the inevitability of winter bareness. But last week just before our 25-degree Fahrenheit nights began, a few trees and shrubs in my yard were spectacular. Some years these late-to-the-party autumn beauties are killed back before they achieve full color. This year, we were lucky.

The photo above is what my Tall Stewartias look like this time of year. S. monadelpha is not native, but I’ve never seen any signs of invasiveness from this Asian species in the 15+ years my two trees have been growing on our north side. Small white camellia-like flowers adorn every branch in late spring, and they are lovely. But I think this tree’s fall color, and the gorgeous cinnamon-colored bark it shows off during winter are its greatest assets.  The trees are pest-free and always beautiful, no more so that just before late autumn cold strips them bare of their scarlet cloaks.

Acer griseum samaras

My slow-growing Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) is most noticeable in the landscape after its leaves fall. The leaves turn a nice red, but they don’t last long. Fortunately, the large winged seeds (samaras) linger long on the branches, contrasting nicely with the exfoliating bark that motivated me to acquire this Chinese maple. Ours has been growing very slowly for over 20 years. It is about eight feet tall, maybe nine, growing at the edge of its preferred hardiness zone here. I knew it preferred colder climates, so I tucked it into a spot near the bottom of our consistently coldest hill, where snow lingers a week longer than anywhere else on our five acres. The reddish exfoliating bark and the large samaras more than compensate for the slow growth of this tree.

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

I have waxed enthusiastic more than once about the intoxicating cinnamon-sweet fragrance of the rose-colored flowers of Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke,’ but I don’t think I’ve mentioned that she also dazzles us every autumn with her gold and apricot fall leaf color. Her cherry-red bark is lovely too, making this small tree a year-round favorite.

Acer buergerianum leaves adorn the ground

Trident maple (Acer buergerianum) is another Chinese maple I couldn’t resist. I added it because it is supposed to produce reliably red fall color. However, in my yard, the leaves on my tree vary with temperature. An early cold autumn creates lovely crimson color; a slow and mild fall like we had this year produces mostly golds and tangerines, with a few reds at the top of the tree.  This Chinese maple is also supposed to produce exfoliating bark on its trunk. My specimen is just getting large enough to show signs of this, but even now, its gray-whitish color is striking in my winter landscape.

The slow-to-cool autumn was more favorable for one of our favorite specimen trees. For the second year in a row, our Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) has been breathtaking. This tree always surprises me. One day it is bright green, then seemingly overnight, a golden glow overtakes it from top to bottom. This one draws wows from all who see it during its autumn display. It seems a fitting way to close this post, and the season. Winter starkness fast approaches, and I welcome the cold season. It gives my plants time to rest and recover, building strength for spring greening. The first seed catalogs have already arrived. Winter dreamtime is at hand…

Persian Ironwood glows in the late autumn landscape.

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

A Touch of the Exotic: Persian Ironwood

Mid-November peak autumn color

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:

Leafy sunshine

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:

Parrotia persica showing off its bark in winter

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:

Gray and silver mottled branches of Persian Ironwood

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.

, ,


%d bloggers like this: