Glorious autumn colour and beautiful bark are two reasons why the Persian Ironwood, Parrotia persica, deserves to be grown more widely. The broad, scalloped leaves are apple green in summer, but shift to a dramatic and prolonged show of red, pink, apricot and yellow through September and October. The patterned, flaking bark is less distinctive on younger trees, but on a mature tree the patchwork of grey, pinkish brown and cream makes for great winter interest. An added - although perhaps rather subtle - bonus are the late winter flowers, quietly showy tufts of dark crimson stamens borne along the bare twigs. The similarity of these flowers to the witch hazel show how closely the two are related - both belong to the family Hamamelidaceae.
The drawback of this tree for most gardens is its sheer size. Although slow growing, Parrotia persica can reach over 15m high and its long horizontal, characterful branches can easily take the width to 8m - definitely not for every London garden. The best place in Dulwich to see a Parrotia with the space around it that it needs is the Dulwich Picture Gallery garden, which has a very bushy, medium-large domed specimen that is a beautiful autumn sight. Dulwich Park is another good place to spot them; there are at least five specimens growing around the perimeter of Dulwich Park - a bit hemmed in by the surrounding trees and shrubs, but lovely nonetheless.
This natural range of this beautiful tree is from North Iran through to the mountains of the Caucasus, so it has no trouble with tough winters. There is only one other member of the Parrotia family, and that is Parrotia subaquaelis or Chinese Ironwood. Rare both in the its native China and in cultivation, the Chinese Ironwood has a more upright habit than its Persian cousin, and its smaller stature may make it easier to fit in the average garden.
Sue Chandler Trees Committee