Family: Hamamelidaceae (Witch hazel family)
Height: up to 7.6 m (up to 25 ft)
Hamamelis virginiana L.
Multi-branched shrub or small tree with smooth gray-brown bark
Flowers: clusters of yellow four-parted flowers form along the branches in the fall and persist into the winter. The petals are up to 2.5 cm (1 in) long and look strap-like.
Leaves: alternately arranged on short stalks. The leaves are up to 12.7 cm (5 in) long with a smooth top surface. They are widest above the middle with irregular, wavy margins in the upper half and uneven bases.
Twigs: reddish brown with paintbrush-like buds.
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Ideal Conditions: Dry to moist shaded to partially-shaded areas..
Season Change: leaves turn yellow to orangish brown before falling while flowers are present; flowers mature into cute, brown woody capsules.
Comments: small black seeds eject powerfully from the fruit's capsules. These seeds make a popping sound if you are lucky enough to be standing in earshot when this occurs, shooting them up to 6 m (20 ft) away. Witch hazel oil is still used as an "all-purpose healing" remedy containing gallic and tannic acid (Eastman 1992).
Landscape: this small tree or large shrub is not only a good understory shrub for your natural shady areas, but a nice ornamental shrub for your open landscape. It adds funky yellow flowers to your late fall and winter landscapes as well. The seasonal yellow leaves make autumn taste a little better for your eyes.
all photos by Nathanael Pilla
Eastman, J.A. 1992. The Book of Forest and Thicket: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern North America. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA. pp. 103-106.