Witch Hazel


Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Description:

Another very attractive yet rare native shrub. It grows to a height of 20 ft. (6 m) and is a slender, graceful shrub. The leaves are 2-6 in. (5-15 cm) long, wavy and toothed, and turn yellow in the fall. In September and October, as the leaves are falling, the bright yellow flowers bloom. The flowers look like those of the forsythia shrubs commonly planted around Island homes, yet appear at the opposite end of the growing season. The seeds are shiny and black, encased within a capsule 1/2 in. (1.2 cm) long. Buds are small, velvety-brown and alternate.

 

Growing Conditions:

The best growth is made under light shade in rich, well-drained soil, but it tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. Witch hazel is a slow growing shrub but is quite hardy.

Propagation:

Collect the capsules as they turn from green to light brown throughout September. Place these in a paper bag or cardboard box in a warm place and allow to dry. The bag should be closed, since as the capsule dry, they split in half and throw out the seeds with a loud “snap”. Plant the seeds every 2 in. (5 cm) in rows 4 in. (10 cm) apart, at a depth of 1/4 in. (6 mm). Seeds generally take two years to germinate and should be lightly mulched and given light shade. Any seedlings that germinate the first year should be carefully transplanted to another bed with some shading. Witch hazel is not as forgiving of rough handling as some other native plants.

Wildlife Uses:

The value to wildlife is relatively low, but red squirrels and ruffed grouse eat the seed and the plant provides cover and protection for other species.

Areas of Usage:

Another excellent landscape plant if you have some shade. Again, it is important in woodland plantings for its beauty and the diversity it provides. Witch hazel is very useful as a medicinal. The twigs and bark are used to produce oil of witch hazel, while the roots are used to produce a tincture that is also known for its healing powers. Also, witch hazel is the shrub of choice for making the divining rods used in water-witching.

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