Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)
(Photo: Jo Smith on 2/18/10)
Jo, I and the dogs took time out from our busy schedules for a long walk in the woods Thursday afternoon. Mainly, we just wanted to enjoy being outdoors in the sunshine, but we also wanted to see if the Witch Hazel down in the creek was still blooming. Our wildflower bloom hunger was satisfied, and despite the muddy sections, we enjoyed our time in the woods.
The text below originally appeared in a post published on January 24, 2008.
The more common species of witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) grows throughout eastern North America. It blooms in the late fall. Hamamelis vernalis is native to the Ozarks region. It blooms during the late winter and continues until early spring and is usually found in gravel or rocky stream beds or at the base of rocky slopes along streams. The flowers tend to be more reddish and have a spicy aroma.
Witch-hazel has many traditional uses. It was the wood of choice for "dowsing" -- finding underground water (or sometimes other valuable objects) using a Y-shaped branch. Extracts from the leaves, twigs, and bark were used to reduce inflammation, stop bleeding, and check secretions of the mucous membranes. Astringent skin care products made from American witch-hazel are still available from Dickinson's.
Although I will probably never be at the right place at the right time, I'd really like to witness witch-hazel seed dispersal. Over the next year after blooming, two shiny black seeds develop in a woody capsule. The capsules mature at about the time the following year's flowers open. Then, the capsules split so explosively that they eject the seeds up to twenty-five feet away from the mother plant.