Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel)
|Also known as:|
|Family:||Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel)|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade; deciduous forest, forest edges, wooded slopes|
|Bloom season:||September - November|
|Plant height:||6 to 20 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FAC MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Clusters of 1 to 4 stalkless flowers arising from leaf axils all along branching stems, blooming in fall. Flowers are yellow with 4 narrow, ribbon-like petals up to ¾ inch long. Alternating with the petals are 4 very short yellowish fertile stamens and 4 greenish nectar-bearing sterile stamens, with 2 styles in the center that are densely hairy at the base.
The calyx cupping the flower is about 3/16 (5mm) across, bell-shaped, 4 lobed with the lobes curled back (recurved). The inner surface is smooth and greenish to yellowish, the outer light brown and densely covered in star-shaped hairs. The cluster stalk is about ¼ inch long and densely covered in star-shaped hairs and tiny dark scales. After pollination the petals and stamens die off but the calyx and pollinated ovary persist through winter with actual fertilization occurring the following spring.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are simple and alternate, 2¼ to 6 inches long, 1¼ to 4 inches wide, broadly egg-shaped to nearly round or inverted egg-shaped (obovate), pointed to blunt at the tip, the base heart-shaped to rounded to wedge-shaped and usually asymmetric. Edges are irregularly scalloped and wavy. The upper surface is sparsely hairy to hairless, the lower is paler than the upper with scattered star-shaped hairs especially along the veins. Leaf stalks are ¼ to ¾ inch long and densely covered in star-shaped hairs.
New twigs are gray to brown and densely covered in star-shaped hairs and tiny dark scales, becoming smoother the second year. The terminal bud is ¼+ inch long, narrowly elliptic and stalked, the stalk nearly as long as the bud.
Older bark is brown to grayish brown, rough with scattered lenticels (pores). Stems are multiple from the base, up to 3 inches in diameter at breast height, erect to ascending with ascending to spreading branches, often forming dense clumps by root suckers.
Fruit is a hard capsule, about ½ inch long, light brown when mature, resembling an acorn and containing 2 seeds. When mature in the fall, a year after pollination, the capsule splits along a seam and forcefully ejects the seeds up to 30 feet away.
Witch Hazel reaches the northwest tip of its natural range at the eastern edge of Minnesota, but has long been available in the nursery trade and occasionally planted farther west. Its preferred habitat is the understory of deciduous forests, which is at risk from development, logging and invasive species. According to the DNR, only 4 populations were known when it was listed as a Special Concern species in 1984, but after completing biological surveys in what should be suitable habitat, only 8 additional populations were discovered. It was elevated to Threatened in 2013. It stands out in the fall when the unusual flowers bloom, but can be recognized at other times by the persistent calyces, small, acorn-like fruits, alternate leaves with irregularly scalloped and wavy edges, and the star-shaped hairs on the lower leaf surfaces, twigs and stalks.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Witch Hazel shrub
- Witch Hazel shrub
- Witch Hazel tree (by Downtowngal)
- clump of multiple stems
- more leaves
- leaves turning yellow in fall
- flowering in October
- open fruit with seeds inside
Photos by K. Chayka taken at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, Minneapolis. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Witch Hazel tree by Downtowngal (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC BY-SA 3.0
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?