Persian Ironwood tree identification

The Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica is a small deciduous tree native to northern Iran. It is a member of the Witch-hazel family. It was introduced to Britain in 1841. Its wood is extremely hard, hence the name ironwood. Persian Ironwood tree identification – glossy, wavy-edged leaves turning red in autumn, red flowers in winter with no petals, flaking bark. It is frequently found in parks and collections, often as a large shrub, selected for its superb autumn colours.

The Witch-hazel family includes the Sweet Gum and the Persian Ironwood as well as five Witch-hazels – three from North America, one from Japan and one from China. Witch-hazels are popular in Britain for their winter flowers and autumn foliage and a large number of cultivated varieties have been produced, many based on crosses between the Japanese and Chinese species.

Persian Ironwood trees

Two young trees in May

Persian Ironwood  leaf

The leaf is dark green and has wavy edges towards the tip.

Persian Ironwood leaves in autumn

Leaves in October

Persian Ironwood bark

The bark of old trees flakes like a London Plane tree

Persian Ironwood flowers

The flowers come out before the leaves from January to March. Unlike the Witch-Hazel the flowers have no petals. Flowers are clustered together in a dense globular head, surrounded by dark brown sepals. Each flower has 5 to 7  deep red stamens which split to release pollen. The styles are not visible in this   photo taken in January.

Persian Ironwood flowers close-up

Close-up of the flower head in March, showing the deep red cluster of stamens. It is thought that the flowers are wind- pollinated

Persian Ironwood  fruit

The fruit is a capsule that splits open to release 2 seeds. You will rarely see Persian Ironwood fruits in Britain. In most years the flowers, out before the leaves in January to March, will be frost damaged and so fruits will not be formed. This photo shows an old fruit in April.

Witch-hazel flowers

The flower of a Witch-hazel. Photo taken in February. Each flower has 4 strap-like yellow petals, unlike the Persian Ironwood which has no petals. The Chinese Witch-hazel Hamamelis mollis was introduced to Britain in 1879. It flowers from late winter to early spring. 


Terminal leaf buds are flattened and the buds and shoot are covered in short stiff hairs. Photo taken in February.

Lateral leaf bud in February

Flower buds are bigger than leaf buds and are deep brown/purple in February, just before opening.

Mature tree in February