Monday, September 26, 2011

Persian Ironwood

Photo courtesy of Garden World
Bark, structure, flower composition and color, leaf shape and fruit all contribute to make plants interesting. The “back story” can often be just as interesting and informative, too.

I planted two Parrotia persicas, commonly known as Persian ironwood, in my garden three or four years ago because I wanted the brilliant fall color I’d seen in photos (like the one the right). The structure of the trees is pleasing with or without leaves, but I have yet to see the bright fall leaf color. I thought the lack of color might be because of something I was—or wasn’t—doing. Now this is where the “back story” comes in...

In the September 2011 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, published by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), writer Constance Casey wrote about “Iran’s Loveliest Expat,” the Parrotia persica. The tree originates in northern Iran between the Alborz Mountains at an elevation of 3,000 feet down to the Caspian Sea. As a member of the Hamamelidaceae family, Parrotia is a relative of witch hazel, Corylopsis and Fothergilla, all of which share the same scalloped leaves and late winter flowers.

Unbeknownst to me, my Persian ironwoods should be producing early spring flowers with red stamens surrounded by chocolate-brown bracts before the leaves appear. I’ll have to pay closer attention because I’ve never noticed them before.

I was anticipating that the leaves would welcome autumn with brilliant crimson, yellow and amber color, maybe even a splash of purple. According to the article, however, not everyone gets the great fall color. Now they tell me! The trees planted in the New York Botanical Garden don’t color and they speculate that it’s due to the harsher climate. On the other hand, England’s Kew Gardens sees “an unbeatable array of autumn leaf colours.” The article goes on to say that Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum boasts the largest specimen in North American; it was planted in 1881 and shows its autumn color quite nicely. In Portland, Ore., we have the milder climate of its native habitat so we can’t blame it on harsh winters. I guess I’ll keep hoping that the leaf color will intensify as the tree matures. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy everything else about the lovely Persian expat.

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