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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Hamamelis virginiana L.

Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel Family)

Common Name:

witch hazel

11/05/2001

Witch hazel is a small understory deciduous tree that grows in sandy dry to moist woods with deep soil. Itís the last native plant to flower each year, and starts blooming at about the fall color peak, just as the tree begins to lose its leaves.

Fragrant yellow flowers in stalked clusters of 2 or 3 form in the axils of last yearís twigs.  Flowers are 2 to 3 cm across with four long narrow petals that resemble crumpled tissue paper.  At low temperatures the petals curl back into a bud and open again as the temperature rises. The fruit is a woody seed capsule that matures the following year and explodes to release two seeds.

Twigs are zigzag with brown hairs and hairy buds that lack protective bud scales. Leaves are simple and alternate on a short petiole with pinnate veins.  Leaf shape is oval with wavy margins, and slightly asymmetrical at the base.

Witch hazel is the only member of the family in Wisconsin. A similar spring blooming species, H. vernalis, occurs further south.

An extract of the twigs, leaves and bark is used as an astringent. Use of the twigs as divining rods (water-witching) gave the tree its common name.

  • Origin of the nameHamamelis, Gr. name for another tree with pear-like fruit; hama, Gk., together with, melis, Gk., honey, bees; virginiana, from Virginia
  • Range:  Eastern N. Amer., w. to MN, s. to TX, FL
  • WI Range: Statewide
  • Common associates: Sugar maple, oaks, hickories
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACU
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 7 (WI), C = 8 (S&W), C = 5 (MI),
     
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