Thursday, January 24, 2008


Witch Hazel

The First Flowers of the New Year

Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)

One of the reasons Jo and I wanted to walk along the creek on Sunday was to see if the witch-hazel was blooming. It was.

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.



Tom said...

A great post Marvin. A stunning close up and as much info about the plant as anyone could hope for.
I really enjoyed reading this...
My friend big Pete is here with me at the moment and as told me to a big hello to you.

Nessa said...

Incredible shot of the bloosoms and very interesting information.

Cape Cod Washashore said...

WOW! I'd never thought much about witch hazel other than the bottle of it I have in my medicine cabinet! What an intricate little bloom! Quite lovely! ("Wom Tigley" sent me here -- thanks, tom!)

Lana Gramlich said...

So informative, yet again. I've never seen a witch hazel, but it's on my wish list.

imac said...

Tom sent me over Marvin, he sure was right too.
You have a great blog here great photos and stories. would like to link you.

Pop over to my lil ol blog for a visit
Have you captured the tree People like I have

Willard said...

Tom Wigley sent me over too and I'm glad I came.

I really like the witch hazel photo and the other shots as well.

I am a Pennsylvania backwoodsman and spend significant portions of most days in the great outdoors.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I won't tell you how many years I have been saying that I was going to plant a witch hazel in our garden. I haven't done it yet. Maybe this year. ahem.. Anyway I am delighted to know all of this about the tree I want just beacause it is one of if not the first blooms of the year. I can see why you are facinated about the seed dispersal. It would be interesting to see.

Q said...

Hi Marvin,
I have two Witch Hazels in my gardens. They are small and have not begun to bloom. I am waiting!!
So beautiful!
Thank you for showing the bloom. When mine does bloom I will take pictures. It might be awhile. I planted a tiny-tiny seedling two years ago!

Mary said...

Your photo is very nice of the witch-hazel. Your description of the seed pods bursting is great. I'd like to witness that, too.

Bong said...

Hi! Womtigs neice, Bong here. I love this posting. I'm fascinated with plants that have medicinal properties. I guess that's quite normal for Pharmacists! I'm a bit jealous I can't see such a beautiful plant myself. You're very lucky!

smilnsigh said...

Never knew anything actually bloomed in Winter!!!


Kerri Farley said...

NOW I remember how I came across your site....Old Wom Tigley sent me! What a great close up shot of this plant!!!!

Andree said...

I'm hoping your witch hazel is the same species as mine. I see the red sticks in the wood in winter but never paid attention in spring to see what the foliage was. This year I'm tying little flags to the sticks (if I can get there thru the snow), so that I'll know.

lisa said...

Nice! I have the more common variety that bloomed in fall, but I never knew about the seed capsules-thank you! I like the sound of a "spicy-fragrance" for a witch hazel bloom...I wonder if vernalis would survive for me up here?