The flamboyant Parrotia Persica has such dense, hard, and durable wood that it is used for telephone poles, bridge construction, and tool handles. That is how it got to be called “the iron tree.” Also, during winter, the silvery sheen of its smooth bark looks metallic. It peels in scales, revealing of mosaic of gray, green, and white new bark beneath.
Even though its flowers are small and petal-less, they emerge in late winter and early spring, before the leaves, and with a blood red tinge, they inspire flower arrangements galore, After flowering, the new leaves emerge coppery and then become become dark green. As fall approaches, the tree reaches its most beautiful stage, with leaves that shine golden yellow, crimson, rose pink, maroon, and purple, sometimes all colors on a single tree. On an autumn walk, watch for a slight breeze that will set the canopy shimmering.
The name Parrotia, however, comes not from its color or parrots, or parrot green, but from Baltic German naturalist, explorer, and scientific mountaineer Friedrich Parrot (1791-1841). In early 1829, he made the first successful ascent to the top of Mount Ararat, widely accepted in Christianity as the resting place of Noah’s Ark.
This dazzling little tree (it doesn’t get taller than 40 feet) can also handle harsh city conditions. It comes from the rainy side of the Alborz Mountains in Iran. With a climate similar to the northern California coast, the region can receive 80 inches of rain per year.