Witch Hazel

Our native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a common understory plant that prefers deep, well-drained, semi-moist, acidic soils. The witch hazel, a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub that grows 15- 30 feet high, has a very distinctive leaf. The witch hazel is unique in that it flowers in the late fall with the yellow blooms often remaining on the tree well into the winter. These blooms are very fragrant. The witch hazel is also one of a few plants where the bud has no protective sheath around it, only the small leaf.

This sulfur yellow “naked” bud along with the winter flowers aid identification when the leaves are not on the shrub. There are 3 species of witch hazel native to North America and one species found in Japan.

Witch hazel extracts are an astringent and have a number of medicinal uses to help heal sores, bruises, and swelling. Extracts of witch hazel are used in acne medicine, aftershaves, insect bite crèmes, and hemorrhoid medicines.

The showy winter flowers, bright fall color and fragrant aroma make witch hazel a popular ornamental plant; there are many cultivars especially in gardens throughout Great Britain. The name witch hazel is thought to be derived from “wych” meaning pliable; these twigs were used for divining rods to find water.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 12/7/14