In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2001
Regional Report

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Common witchhazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is an eye-catcher when nothing else is blooming.

Magnificent Witchhazels

One of my favorite things to do at this time of year is to get into the woods, for even a few minutes. Although leaves are down and we're beginning the slide into winter, finding witchhazels in full bloom make it seem not so bad. Common witchhazels are native to the Midwest, and a walk in the woods in late October through late November will most likely surprise you with several.


The odd-looking flowers are bright yellow and fragrant with crinkled, strap-like petals. They sometimes bloom while the leaves are still on, so the flowers are not so obvious at first. However, by this time of year, most of the leaves are gone, and they put on a show for up to a month.

Form and Foliage

The shrubs are highly variable in shape, one of the characteristics that makes them most appealing. They are always irregular and quite architectural, a nice feature I have as focal points in my landscape. Fall color is usually rich bronzy yellow to gold, and the summer foliage is deep matte green.

A Low Maintenance Plant

One of the most appealing features of witchhazels, besides the flowers, is that they take relatively little maintenance and grow under any conditions, a definite plus in my yard. Although moist soil is best for them, they will tolerate drier conditions, as well as our cold winters, city pollution, salt and most types of soil. An extra benefit is that they grow equally well in full sun or heavy shade. I have one thriving under a wide eave in full shade. Best of all, there are no pests or diseases that bother witchhazels.

Other Types

Another fairly common witchhazel is the vernal or spring-blooming witchhazel. This is the shrub from which an extract of the bark is used to make an astringent, and the springy stems are used as divining rods when dousing for water. They are smaller than the common witchhazel, only growing about six to twelve feet high and wide. They have rich golden-yellow fall color which lasts a very long time. The flowers, all colors from yellow through red, bloom from January through March.

A third species of witchhazel is the spectacular intermediate witchhazel. This particular type usually grows a bit wider than the common one, and there are hundreds of cultivated varieties available. The leaves are medium gray-green and the fall color can range from yellow to gold to red.

The flowers also vary according to the variety, anywhere from bright yellow to bright red with every shade in between. I have a variety called 'Jelena,' which has unbelievably intense orange-red fall color that will rival any sugar maple. The flowers on 'Jelena' are coppery red and appear in early March, often even before snowdrops begin blooming.

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