Thursday, October 7, 2010

Look For It Now: Witch Hazel

Witch hazel is a gem of a tree. The unique petal structure of the flowers and explosive pod-like fruits are only part of the shrub's allure. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is so special because it is the last woody plant to flower, blossoming fully once the tree has dropped all its leaves. When the rest of the forest's flowers and trees have dulled to brown, you can count on witch hazel to brighten the autumn woods.

Witch hazel is a small deciduous tree with coarsely-toothed, alternating green leaves in the summer. The flowers, blooming now through November, are spider-like and mostly yellow, with four petals that grow in clusters. The fruit is a seed capsule that will shoot out seeds up to 20 feet, giving witch hazel the alternate name of snapping hazel.

Witch hazel has medicinal properties and is used in homeopathic form (under the name Hamamelis) by the VINS Wildlife Services department to treat internal bleeding in wild birds.

Fall is here and the witch hazel is blossoming: head outside and look for it now! Photo by Jared Clark.

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