My persian parrotia tree (Parrotia persica) is thriving, but won’t develop the lovely fall color ascribed to it in books. Instead, its leaves just turn brown. Do all species color or just some?
Joan Smith, Columbia, MO
Michael Dirr, author of the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants and professor at the University of Georgia in Athens, replies: Parrotia persica can be one of the most beautiful trees for foliage effect and with year-round eye appeal and ease of maintenance, it is indeed one of my favorites. Reddish-purple when unfolding in spring, the leaves are a lustrous dark green in summer, and yellow to orange or scarlet in fall. Leaves often hold color into early December in my USDA Hardiness Zone 7b (5°F). Older branches and trunks develop an exfoliating gray, green, white, and brown color that is a welcome asset in the winter garden. It grows successfully in Zones 4 to 8 (–30°F to 10°F), tolerates sun and partial shade, and is easy to transplant.
Variation in color is a genetic trait within the species. Some trees color spectacularly while others are less than satisfactory. For reliable fall color, I suggest investing in a proven, named cultivar. A number of vegetatively propagated forms are making their way into the market that are more dependable: ‘Biltmore’, from the magnificent specimen on the grounds of the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina; ‘Vanessa’, an upright form; and ‘Pendula’, a weeping form. In my opinion, Parrotia persica is a worthy addition to your garden with or without the fall color.