Witch Hazel

Just as we have to say goodbye to the resplendent colors of fall, the last flowering plants of the year put on a final show of color before we resign ourselves to a season of white snow, gray skies, and cold winds.

Witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is a generally inconspicuous understory species, often overshadowed by the birches and maples of New York’s forests, but when the trees lose their leaves every year, it gives this common shrub and opportunity to take the spotlight.

In early fall, witch-hazel plants begin to disperse their seeds, which have been ripening over the course of the entire year. At this time, the fruits of the plant open up to reveal two glossy black seeds which are explosively ejected away from the plant—this unusual behavior earns it the colloquial name, snapping hazel.

After the seeds have been dispersed, witch-hazel flowers bloom in preparation next year’s fruit. In New York, you’ll see the spidery yellow blooms beginning in mid- to late October and early November. Regional variations in colors range from greenish gold to red, but yellow is the most common color, especially in the Hudson Highlands region.

Photo by Tim Howard
Photo by Tim Howard

Featured image is a witch-hazel blossom. Photo citation: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org. Post by Paris Harper

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