Common Name: common witch hazel
Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 15 to 25 ft
Width: 15 to 20 ft
The witch hazel is a fall-blooming, deciduous multi-stemmed shrub. The bark is gray with tan-colored lenticels covering the bark. The twigs can have a zig-zag shape, making the overall form of a mature witch hazel look irregular. The leaves are simple, in an alternate arrangement, and are oval in shape with wavy or dentate margins. They are green in the summer, turning yellow in the fall. Small fragrant bright yellow flowers, each with four crinkly, ribbon-shaped petals, appear from October to December. They can be present before the leaves drop and afterward. Fertilized flowers will form fruit over a long period extending through winter and into the following growing season. Fruits are greenish seed capsules that become woody with age and mature to light brown. Each seed capsule burst open in the fall of the following year, shooting the 1-2 black seeds up to 30ft away from the plant.
Where it Grows:
Witch hazel is found growing in moist well-drained soils. It thrives best in acidic, organic-rich soils but can tolerate alkaline and heavy clay soils. The plant can grow in full sun and full shade, but flowers best in full sun. In part-shade, it will have a more open habit than in full sun. It is one of the most salt-tolerant shrubs that are great for urban environments. It does not tolerate dry conditions. It is tolerant of black walnut toxicity and aerial salt spray.
How it's Used:
This plant can be used for shrub bordering, screening, and hedging. It can also be used underneath utility lines. Very little pruning is needed. If pruning is required, early spring is the best time. Aromatic extract from the leaves, twigs, and bark are used in mildly astringent lotions and micellar water.
The seeds are eaten by a number of species of birds. It also serves as a host plant for the larvae of the spring azure butterfly.
Where it is Native To:
Witch hazel is native to woodlands, forest margins, and stream banks in eastern North America.
Known Varieties and Their Traits:
- Champlin's Red common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana 'Champlin's Red'): Vase-shaped to rounded 8 to 10 feet high; fragrant, yellow with a tinge of red at base of flowers
- Harvest Moon common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana 'Harvest Moon'): 10 to 15 feet high; showy, fragrant lemon-yellow flowers
- Little Suzie common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana 'Little Suzie'): Compact, 4 to 6 feet high; soft sulfur-yellow flowers
- Pendula common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana 'Pendula'): a slightly weeping form, 6 foot high by 12 feet wide; yellow fragrant flowers
There are no serious issues or diseases that affect witch hazel. Japanese beetles may chew on the leaves in some areas, being more of a cosmetic issue.
Little, E. L. (n.d.). National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees; Eastern Edition. (Original work published 1980)