Posted On: November 28, 2017

Fall-Blooming Witch-Hazel

Did you know that the common witch-hazel blooms in the fall?

Hamamelis virginiana, the common witch-hazel, is the source of the astringent which has been used in cosmetic products for hundreds of years. This small shrub is common throughout eastern North America, found growing along forest margins and riverbanks from Canada to Florida. Only the common witch-hazel blooms in the fall, letting its yellow spider-like flowers unfurl while the shrub often still has its beautiful clear-yellow fall leaves. This characteristic can make it challenging to spot the flowers which camouflage themselves so perfectly among the leaves. Hybrid witch hazel and those originating from Asia typically bloom late in January through February, making it easier to spot the flowers. The common witch hazel will often have fragrant blooms, smelling slightly of oranges when the flowers are fully opened.

90% of cultivated witch-hazel is grown in Connecticut. Witch-hazel is harvested sustainably by cutting back the branches every 8-10 years. Those branches are then brought to a distillery to concentrate the witch-hazel essence. After harvesting, the witch hazel shrub will grow back, allowing for continued harvest without ever having to replant.

There are currently three varieties of common witch-hazel planted in Madison Square Park. ‘Phantasm’ is the earliest blooming and has deep yellow flowers. ‘Harvest Moon,’ introduced to cultivation by Dick Jaynes of Broken Arrow Nursery, has coppery new growth and flowers heavily with pale yellow flowers. ‘Chalpin’s Red’ is another fall blooming variety with deep red calyx cup.

See if you can spot these hidden gems blooming in the Park this fall.