Flora Feature: Witch Hazels

Witch hazels or Hamamelis are a genera of shrubby plants native to North America, China, and Japan. The genus name, Hamamelis, means “together with fruit,” referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year. Species native to North America bloom from September -November while other species bloom from January – March, making witch hazels an important plant for winter interest in the dreary months of gardening. These plants also have excellent clear yellow to red fall color, providing much needed contrast in a city of brown London Plane leaves.

Flowers come in red, yellow, orange, and pinks. Many are fragrant. The leaves and bark of the North American witch hazel Hamamelis virginiana may be used to produce the astringent witch hazel, which is used medicinally. This plant extract was widely used for medicinal purposes by American Indians and continues to be an ingredient in a variety of commercial healthcare products.

Last fall, our garden staff planted twelve new varieties of witch hazel in the Park, adding to the six existing varieties that are already present in the Park.