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The Witch Hazel Surprises Before Winter Ends

My neighbor’s witch hazel in early March

During snowy January winters (and it is snowing as I write) I start to get itchy, longing to see flowers the garden. That is impossible of course, but what I can do is think about I can plant that will bloom very early in the spring.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis) is a shrub that blooms when there is no other flower in sight. It immediately comes to mind because a neighbor has a witch hazel growing and blooming in front of her house in February and into March. I only have another month to wait before I can see those sunny yellow blooms and feel that winter is well on its way out.

I love the twirly blossoms of the witch hazel

There are different witch hazels. Hamamelis virginiana is a native and begins to bloom in November. This is the only one that blooms in the fall.

The majority of vernal (Ozark), Chinese and Japanese witch hazels typically flower sometime from January into March. All witch hazel shrubs produce similar flowers with twirly, little petals. There are also intermedia witch hazels that result from crosses between the Japanese and Chinese species.Th

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ with its colorful orange/red petals is considered one of the best cultivars blooming in late fall. “Diane’ is another cultivar with beautiful autumnal color. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ has pale twirly blossoms. Many of these shrubs do not grow taller than twelve feet. The spread can vary.

Witch hazel ‘Jelena’

When locating a site for a witch hazel it is vital to find a sunny spot. It will not thrive in the shade.

Witch hazels also have a reputation as divining or dowsing rods. Even in these modern days well diggers will use a witch hazel limb to walk over a possible space where they might find water. I have a friend who has shown me her skill as a dowser many times. In fact I have  to tell you that she is able to dowse with a needle and a map, as well as with a dowsing rod. Truly!

I am not the only one who appreciates witch hazel. Nature writer Edwin Way Teale once described it as a “botanical individualist.” I also learned that Robert Frost gave witch hazel a mention in his poem “Reluctance.”

Chinese Witch Hazel in the Lyman Plant House at Smith College, February 26

The Lyman Plant House at Smith College has a who array of wonderful plants including a Bulb Show in the spring, and a Chrysanthemum Show in the fall.