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A deciduous tree 30 to 40 ft high in the wild (occasionally taller), or a shrub, with a smooth grey bark which comes away in flakes, as in the plane; young twigs at first furnished with stellate hairs. Leaves ovate, oblong or obovate – 21⁄2 to 5 in. long, 1 to 21⁄2 in. wide – rounded or tapering at the base, coarsely, shallowly and unevenly toothed, or merely wavy towards the apex, almost glabrous above, sparsely furnished beneath with stellate hairs; stalk 1⁄4 in. long, downy. Flowers produced during March in short clusters 1⁄2 in. across, often terminal on short leafy twigs, and only conspicuous for their numerous red stamens. Bracts brown and hairy outside, green within, 1⁄4 in to 1⁄3 in. long, ovate. Seed-vessels nut-like, opening at the top; seeds 3⁄8 in. long, bright brown, pointed at one end. Bot. Mag., t. 5744.
Native of the forest region south and south-west of the Caspian Sea (N. Persia and the Lenkoran region of Russia); introduced to Kew from St Petersburg in 1841. The great charm of this tree is in the beautiful tints of gold and crimson its foliage assumes in autumn. Few trees are more effective then. In the early spring, too, when in flower, the numerous red-anthered stamens and rich brown bracts give to the still leafless branches a hazy effect of red which is very pleasing in sunshine. It is perfectly hardy.
In the wild, P. persica is sometimes a shrub, forming thickets of stout, enmeshed stems which often become grafted to their neighbours; or it may be a slender-stemmed tree, growing slowly to a height of 45 ft or so, but reported to attain 80 ft occasionally. In gardens, it is usually seen as a spreading shrub up to 20-30 ft high and considerably more in width. It should be trained up in its early stages, and the lower branches pruned away, but it is doubtful whether this form could ever be made into more than a short-trunked shrubby tree.
At Syon House, London, there is a specimen with scarcely any trunk, but 45 ft high. At Kew, the largest plant has a bole 8 ft in height and measures 30 × 41⁄4 ft and there is another of about the same size at Wakehurst Place at Sussex, with a bole 10 ft high (1967-8). A specimen at Abbotsbury in Dorset is a definite tree measuring 50 × 31⁄2 ft with a bole of 20 ft (1972).
P. persica is usually propagated by layers or even by grafting onto American witch-hazel. But cuttings should strike under mist.
specimens: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 40 × 41⁄2 ft, bole 10 ft, and another in the Front Shrubbery, 33 × 5 ft (1984); Abbotsbury, Dorset, this specimen was removed 1980; Westonbirt, Glos., Skillings Gate, 40 × 41⁄2 ft at 1 ft (1983).
In National Trust gardens there is a fine example at Nymans, Sussex, by the drive; and at Polesden Lacey, Surrey, a clump of four plants about 50 by 50 ft in extent and about 40 ft high (G. S. Thomas, Gardens of the National Trust, p. 200). Dr H. Heine tells us that the example in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, planted about 1900, is still in perfect health and vigour, the plane-like flaking of its bark becoming more pronounced every year.
P. persica was reintroduced to Kew in 1977 by Fliegner and Simmons from the Caspian forests of northern Iran. Seedlings were collected, and the young plants differ from each other in their autumn colour, red in some, yellow in others (The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.) Vol. 109, pp. 424-5 (1984)).
† cv. ‘Pendula’. – A dwarfish form, making a dome-shaped shrub eventually about 10 ft high.