Introducing Parrotia persica

by James Alexander-Sinclair

Do you know a tree called Parrotia persica? At this time of year it is a light among the gloom.

Flowers of Parrotia persicaDo you know a tree called Parrotia persica? At this time of year it is a light among the gloom. Most trees are without leaves in winter and there is only so much satisfaction that you can get from a tracery of damp twigs. About now I start dreaming of a bit of colour and, lo and behold, up steps the parrotia to perform. Its common name is Persian ironwood and, unsurprisingly with that name, it is native to Northern Iran: in particular the Alborz Mountains.

I first met this tree in my mother-in-law's garden, where it overhangs her pond — it was love at first sight. Who could resist the delightful, slightly curled leaves? Especially when, come the autumn, they transform into an extraordinarily flamboyant conflagration of red and orange. Parrotias eventually — after 15 years or so — reach an approximate height of nine metres, so probably aren't trees to choose if you're in a hurry.

So all very lovely but, I hear you cry, why should this tree be good enough in early February to warrant a blog post all of its own? A good question: the answer is here.

It will come as no surprise to know that parrotias are part of the same family as witchhazels, which have the same shaggy, sea anemone-shaped flowers. Witchazel flowers can be even more spectacular than those of parrotia; Hamamelis intermedia 'Diane' (as shown on Fairegarden's blog) is a particularly striking example.

Many winter-flowering shrubs (for example sarcococca or Lonicera fragrantissima) have white or yellow flowers, but it's good to have a flash of scarlet to liven up a dank afternoon.

PS The flowers in the photograph above adorn a vast multi-stemmed specimen that I've just (with the aid of much heavy machinery and many sturdy fellows) planted in a client's garden.

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Gardeners' World Web User 04/02/2009 at 15:05

I have also a parrotia, its only a small three year old tree, but i have never seen flowers on it yet, i presume flowers only appear on older trees ?

Gardeners' World Web User 04/02/2009 at 19:31

I'm looking forward to seeing my new Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) that my sister gave it to me for Christmas last year, in flower, when it does eventually anyway! It's scented like the hamamelises (pl?!) so it has a double-whammy! :-)

Gardeners' World Web User 04/02/2009 at 23:03

Thanks for the link! I gave my son in North Carolina a Parrotia for Christmas in 2008. It has done well in his garden there. Frances at Fairegarden

Gardeners' World Web User 05/02/2009 at 09:04

Thanks for the link from me too - though with all this wintry weather I'm not hopeful this year!

Gardeners' World Web User 05/02/2009 at 17:27

And it gets it's name Parrotia because of the brightly coloured autumn leaves we say. No named after a German naturalist and traveller F W Parrot. So, did he also name the bird?

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