Fall color primer 13a: American witch hazel,
Fall color primer 13a: American witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana
Of the six known species of the genus Hamamelis (witch hazel), H. virginiana is the only one that blooms in the fall. The other species all bloom in late winter or early spring (January – March). The genus name translates as “together with fruit” since both the spring blooming and the fall blooming species flower at the same time that the fruit from the previous year is maturing. The flowers of both types, spring and fall blooming, consist of four narrow strip-like petals that unfurl from a coil. The blooms of H. virginiana range from pale yellow to deeper yellow. Other species can have blooms that are orange or even red in color. The fall foliage is typically yellow. Most years this plant blooms here in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio in early November.
The H. virginiana plants can grow either as shrubs or small trees. In cultivation I have seen them mostly pruned as small trees. In the wild, they tend to be more shrubby. If you’re wondering, this is the plant that is the source of the marketed astringent solution ‘Witch Hazel’. For a good article on this plant, see for example, https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/winsome_witch-hazel
This is never a conspicuous plant in the fall. You won’t notice it unless you get up close to it. Then the charm of seeing flowers in November is undeniable.
Asian witch hazels, H. mollis and H. japonica, and hybrids between them, H. x intermedia, are widely planted in my area as ornamental trees or shrubs that are prized for early spring blooms and colorful fall foliage. They will feature in a later Fall Color Primer entry. Although H. virginiana was one of the earliest plants from North America to be widely planted in Europe, it has largely fallen out of favor by landscapers, supplanted by these Asian varieties.
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