November 6, 2011

Witch Hazel - Symbol of Eternal Life

Witch hazel grove in October
In late autumn, when most of the landscape is having its last blush and preparing for a long winter's nap, golden groves of American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana L.) quietly burst into bloom, festooning damp wooded hillsides with yellow, spidery blossoms.

This humble shrub has a rare multi-generational lifestyle.  Its delicate flowers share their zigzaggy branches with the ripened pods from the previous year and the dried empty seed capsules from the year before that.  On warm sunny days, while the fragrant blossoms are attracting bees and various other insects, the ripened pods pop open and fire their seeds across the forest floor making a soft rhythm on fallen leaves.

It's a long road through the next twelve months to grow and ripen those pods.  I recently learned from Charley Eiseman's latest post on his BugTracks blog,, that fertilization of these late bloomers doesn't take place within the flowers until the following May, after several months of dormancy in the cold months. Eiseman also details the many pollinators that are now known to visit witch hazel blossoms.

Witch hazel's overwintering calyx and leaf bud


  1. Oh, Cherrie! They are gorgeous! I recall when we went to look for witchhazel a few years ago, there was but one lone blossom we could find.

  2. Lots of flowers and a few pods this year, which haven't been popping as readily due to the dampness. Eiseman is the first, since our musings, that I've heard comment on the multi-generation habit of WH.