Posted On: February 23, 2018
Welcoming the Witch-hazel
While Hamamelis boasts beautiful blooms, it is a not plant that is normally the focal point of any garden, nor is it featured in the overwhelmingly spring-flower-focused plant retailers. In fact it is a shrub (or possibly a small tree) that will put on a display when many people are likely still drawn into their hoods or scarves. Commonly called witch-hazel, it is, in fact, the same plant used for medicinal purposes. It is also the slender-stemmed beauty that draws the eye up its with its frills of yellow, orange, and red flowers. These spider-like flowers uncurl along thin branches beginning as early as November until as late February depending on the variety of the plant.
The common native witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, flowers well enough in partial shade but is truly a wonder when planted in full sun. Its branches are laden with clusters of yellow flowers. Through the efforts of plant breeders, witch-hazel has begun to cement a kind of niche as a hardy and reliably flowering winter ornamental plant. Japanese witch-hazel, Hamamelis japonica has been crossed with Chinese witch-hazel, Hamamelis mollis, and the resulting (Hamamelis x intermedia) displays superior flowering and hardiness enough to withstand even the most brutal northern weather.
The single flowers on a witch-hazel are an oddity. They uncurl like tiny streamers as the day lengthens and curl back up if the weather turns too cold. The seeds too are unusual. They are fired from their pods almost like buckshot and propelled many yards away— even making a small but startling clang. This unique feature is unfortunately lost in the noise of a big city.
The witch-hazels in the Park’s collection run the gamut of warm colors. ‘Westerstede’, ‘ Angelly’, and ‘Spring Bounty’ are all wonderful examples, as is our oldest witch hazel ‘Arnold’s Promise’. Other favorites include the deep orange-red of varieties such as ‘Robert’ and the slightly more orange ‘Jelena’. Witch-hazel flowers can also produce a range of scents (again depending on the variety). ‘Rochester’ produces a spiced scent while others such as ‘Orange Peel’ have a sweeter aroma.
Sadly though, Witch-hazels are still quite overlooked in their valuable role as a woody ornamental. This may be changing a bit. Here at the Park, we are hoping our collection will give them a chance to impress all who wander by.