Tree of the Month: Witch Hazel

Scientific name: Hamamelis virginiana

Witch-hazel’s name is a mystery to all, but perhaps it was named because it is small and crooked like many witches that we know. Or perhaps it is so named because North American indigenous people use extracts of the plant to treat numerous illnesses. Whatever the reason, Witch-hazel is a cool looking small tree or large shrub with large, crooked spreading branches, unique flowers and leaves that turn a brilliant gold in late fall.

Witch-hazel is a small tree or large shrub that usually grows about 3-5 metres (10-15) feet. It has unusual yellow spindly flowers with four, twisted petals, which bloom in late October or early November and hold on until the leaves have fallen.  The bark is smooth and gray and leaves are jagged along the edge and medium sized (6-15 cm).

An especially cool feature of the Witch-hazel is that, when the seed capsule is dry, it can shoot its seeds as far as nine metres! Squirrels, birds and rodents then gather for a feast on the forest floor.

Want to plant one?

This tree is a good choice for moist, shaded, well-drained sites, however it is adaptable and can tolerate full sun and clay soils. It won’t take up much room in your yard and can be planted underneath larger trees. Its yellow autumn leaves and late, fragrant flowers will make it a great asset to your garden.