A Good Year for Witch Hazels

by Kathy Purdy on October 20, 2009 · 19 comments

in Flowers on the Brain, Native/Invasive, What's up/blooming

witch hazel blossoms

It is a family tradition to walk up the hill and into the woods this time of year to seek out the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blossoms. This is a native shrub or small tree that prefers moist, acidic soil–which we have in abundance.

In some years, the witch hazel doesn't drop its leaves, making it more difficult to see the flowers.

In some years, the witch hazel doesn't drop its leaves, making it more difficult to see the flowers.


This year we found many trees with the leaves already gone.

This year we found many trees with the leaves already gone.


The flower-filled branches are enchanting

The flower-filled branches are enchanting


This is a plant that has romantic connotations for me. (Narcissus is another one.) I already told the story in a previous post, so I’ll just quote myself here:

The first autumn we lived here, my husband took me up in these woods. He was obviously looking for something, but I couldn’t figure out what. Finally, he stopped and said, “Look up.” There before us was a rather large witch hazel completely spangled with the feathery blossoms. I was enchanted. It looked like stars had fallen and gotten caught in the branches.

It’s been a long time in coming, but I think we finally have a witch hazel year equal to that memorable, almost mythic one. Honey, are you up for a walk?

About

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy's been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Speaking of extreme environments, garden-making in Greenland is said by gardeners there to require tamaviaartumik, Greenlandic for passion, ambition, and commitment.
Constance Casey in Slate (18 Apr 2008)

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie Gibbens March 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Moving from Oregon to Spokane Wa. I have gardened all my life, but now I have to learn cold weather gardening. Will witch hazel do well in zone 2-3?
Thanks
Debbie

Reply

Kathy Purdy March 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Hi, Debbie! The native witch hazel–the one in my blog post–is hardy to Zone 3. There is another native witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, that is hardy to Zone 4 and is spring blooming. Neither is native to Washington. The witch hazels you are most likely to see sold are not native to North America and are hardy to Zone 5 at best.

Reply

Country Gardener October 23, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Great pictures, Kathy. We planted a few native witch hazels here about 6 years ago, but they haven’t performed well at all. Maybe it’s our soil, which I’m sure isn’t acidic. But this fall they have surprised me by blooming nicely, although they still are just 3 ft tall. They’ve hardly grown since we planted them.
.-= Country Gardener´s last blog ..Visting The High Line in New York City =-.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 23, 2009 at 9:21 pm

I don’t know if they require acid soil, but they do need moist soil. And I have no idea how fast they grow in the wild.

Reply

Country Gardener October 23, 2009 at 9:50 pm

They have moist soil where we planted them, but there are a lot of walnut trees around, and they may not be compatible.
.-= Country Gardener´s last blog ..Visting The High Line in New York City =-.

Reply

Lynn October 23, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Aw, so sweet! I didn’t know about these and will go looking around here for sure. There are vernalis planted at Plantations, and they’re so good to see in February/March. I’d love to see some new blooms now. Thanks for sharing the beauty of your woods and great information as always.

Reply

Willi October 21, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Thank you so much for this post. I’m thinking of planting a witch hazel next to my front porch, but am having the worst time deciding which cultivar to buy. This makes me think that the native species might be just the ticket.
.-= Willi´s last blog ..An Herb Feast =-.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 21, 2009 at 9:45 pm

What’s native in upstate NY won’t necessarily do well in California, so check out the cultural requirements of whatever witch hazel you are considering. Also, many witch hazels are fragrant, but this one that grows wild here, not so much.

Reply

Chiot's Run October 21, 2009 at 10:20 am

I’ll have to go look for a few of these, they’re beautiful.
.-= Chiot’s Run´s last blog ..Indian Summer =-.

Reply

Ellen Sousa October 20, 2009 at 6:22 pm

I found your blog on blotanical and fav’ed it immediately! Thanks for the beautiful pics of the native witch hazel…they grow all over the place here in central MA (similar to yours, moist acidic woods in zone 5). It is always such a surprise to find their yellow flowers in December when everything else is long gone. I always wonder what kind of pollinators are still around and using the flowers for nectar….

Reply

Carol, May Dreams Gardens October 20, 2009 at 6:05 pm

That is a pretty flower to find in the fall when the leaves are almost off the trees. I generally associate the bloom with late winter, but I think that’s H. vernalis that blooms then.
.-= Carol, May Dreams Gardens´s last blog ..Book Review: What’s Wrong With My Plant? =-.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 20, 2009 at 7:58 pm

H. vernalis and also the Asian hybrids like ‘Arnold’s Promise.’

Reply

TC October 20, 2009 at 5:50 pm

“It’s been a long time in coming, but I think we finally have a witch hazel year equal to that memorable, almost mythic one.”

That sentence made me think y’all hadn’t walked yet. My bad.

Thanks for the advice.
.-= TC´s last blog ..An autumn tale: Fall. The end. =-.

Reply

Joseph Tychonievich October 20, 2009 at 2:17 pm

So lovely! The woods I grew up in (And yes, I grew up in the woods, not the house. The house was just a place to stop for food and sleep) had tons of wild witchhazel. As a child the name seemed to mystical and the flowers so strange and magical that I always imagined the shrub having some supernatural powers.

Reply

Mr. McGregor's Daughter October 20, 2009 at 1:22 pm

What a beautiful sight! Hammamelis virginiana also has romantic connotations for me, as the first time I’d seen one in bloom was when my husband & I were dating, and we were out walking in a nature preserve on our lunch hour.
.-= Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog ..I’ve Had Some Diem to Carpe =-.

Reply

Noelle (azplantlady) October 20, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Hello,

Thank you for featuring this plant. The flowers are so unusual. Too bad we cannot grow it but our soils are dry and alkaline.
.-= Noelle (azplantlady)´s last blog ..Time for Winter Flowers Yet ? =-.

Reply

TC October 20, 2009 at 11:34 am

“Honey, are you up for a walk?”

What’d he say?? ;~)

I need to put a few of them in here. Any particular variety you recommend?
.-= TC´s last blog ..An autumn tale: Fall. The end. =-.

Reply

Kathy Purdy October 20, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Obviously, since we have pictures, we went on the walk. Hamamelis virginiana is native here–planted itself–and I am not aware of any selections being sold commercially. But I believe you are further south, where Hamamelis vernalis is native, and there are cultivars of that. You might want to ask Gail over at Clay and Limestone for recommendations. She loves native plants and has a similar climate.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Subscribe without commenting

Previous post:

Next post: