Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica
The Persian Ironwood 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. It has red flowers which appear before the leaves in late winter and the leaves turn bright red in autumn. 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.
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.
Close-up of the flower head in March, showing the deep red cluster of stamens. It is thought that the flowers are wind- pollinated
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.