The autumn bloomer. American witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. Blooming to catch the last of the lovely purple asters. The asters have been blooming for many weeks now, adding an unexpected color to the color scheme of fall. Their bloom time overlaps, just a bit but I’m getting distracted. I want to tell you about American witch hazel, with blooms of lovely yellow. Four petals for each flower. Petals that look like lemon zest.
As fall reaches its mid-point, the leaves of American witch hazel are a brilliant yellow. Its flowers too, are blooming. At first, one must know. One must look for the blooms. They are not showy and the lemony yellow leaves compete for attention, and pretty much win. As the days pass, the leaves give in to the change of season, and drop to the forest floor, revealing the last blooms in the mountains, till spring returns.
I say mountains. That is where I see American witch hazel. The higher the elevation, here in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the more likely I am to see them. I live at an elevation of 1,800 feet, and in my woods it is unusual to see an American witch hazel, which is a shrub or small tree with many trunks. Further up my mountain, to its summit of 3,586 feet, American witch hazel is a very common sight. I have planted American witch hazel, here in my yard and, so far, have been successful in having them grow.
The shrub, which is native to northeast and southeast North America, grows to 20 to 30 feet in height, and has a width of 15 to 20 feet. In the wild, American witch hazel enjoys moist, shaded sites. The shrub is pollinated by a moth. The moth, and its chilly night pollinating activities has an interesting story, that you can read, here.
The seed capsules that form, after the bloom is pollinated (seen in the picture above, as a fuzzy golden thingy), overwinter. In their second autumn, the seed capsules dry, popping open to send the one or two seeds inside, a distance of up to 30 feet. Fun seed distribution! Ruffed grouse and squirrels eat these seed capsules, and white-tailed deer like to munch on the leaves and branches.
There are many stories of how witch hazel got its name. My favorite story has to do with a gall that is often seen on the leaves. It is the gall of the witch hazel cone gall aphid. It supposedly, made the namer of the shrub think of a witch’s hat, and therefore the name witch hazel. Ive captured this gall in green, in the photograph. You might also see them in a red shade. I have not noticed that these galls, on the leaves, are a serious problem.
This picture, a new American witch hazel leaf in spring. I am looking forward, into the future, hoping that next year will be that magic year. The year that the witch hazel shrubs that I have planted in my gardens, will be mature enough, and will bloom for me.