Ahhh! In spite of the snow/cold/rain/thaw the Witchhazel is flowering right on time. On Upper College Road, the cultivar ‘Jelena’ is beginning to open with red and orange flowers that always remind me of “blow-out” party favors. Over near the gazebo, ‘Arnold Promise’, from the Arnold Arboretum, has yellow flowers and a pleasing fresh light scent. The very tips of the yellow petals are just beginning to peek out from the buds.
“Jelena and ‘Arnold Promise’ are both cultivars of Hamamelis x intermedia, a cross between Hamamelis mollis, the Chinese Witchhazel, and Hamamelis japonica, Japanese Witchhazel. There is also a Witchhazel native to Eastern North America: Hamamelis virginiana, which blooms in late fall. Its yellow flowers have a slight fragrance. Hamamelis vernalis is native to central North America. It begins flowering in late winter or early spring with fragrant yellow and red flowers.
All the witchhazels are shrubs or small trees, growing to about 12 feet tall at the most. Although mainly the cultivars are sold and planted, they all make wonderful additions to the home landscape. I would plant them solely for the fact that they flower in winter. (It’s certainly not early spring yet!) The added bonus is that Witchhazels also have nice yellow autumn foliage and are for the most part insect and disease free.
Witchhazel is also known as a medicinal plant. An extract is distilled from the twigs and used as an astringent for insect bites, poison ivy, and other skin irritations. I just found out that almost all the Witchhazel extract sold in the United States today is manufactured by one company and most of the harvest is from northwestern Connecticut. Who would have guessed!
So on a “thaw” day like today (44 degrees!) take a walk and keep your eyes open for those narrow, crinkly petals suspended on bare branches. Whether it’s a native or a well-adapted cultivar, Witchhazel flowers in February lift my spirits with thoughts of spring.