Witchhazel grows as a small tree or shrub, often in an irregular round shape. It will be taller and narrower in full sun and rounder in partial sun. Witchhazel has three inch to six inch ovate leaves with toothed margins. The leaves are green in spring and summer and turn yellow in the fall. The flowers are bright yellow with thin, wavy petals. Each flower has four petals. The bark is smooth and gray.
The fruits are eaten by birds including ruffed grouse, northern bobwhite, and wild turkeys. White-tailed deer, squirrels and beavers eat the branches and leaves. The witch hazel cone gall aphid and the spiny witch hazel gall aphid create falls on the plant, but do not harm the plant.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
In early spring the leaves appear. The flowers bloom from October through December. The pollination goes dormant until the next spring. The fruits will form at the same time as the next year’s flowers. At the end of the following year, the seed capsule will release two shiny black seeds. The seeds are often dispersed 10 to 30 feet away from the plant.
Did You Know?
- Witchhazel has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. The extract witchhazel is distilled from the bark and roots. The extracts have been used to treat skin conditions, reduce inflammation and stop bleeding.
- European settlers used the limbs of witchhazel as dowsing rods to find sources of water. They would cut “Y” shaped branches and walk with the branches parallel to the earth, if the branch started to point downwards then it meant there was a water source. The common name most likely originated from this practice as “wicke” is middle english for “lively” and “wych” is the Anglo-Saxon word for “bend.” Wicke hazel might have changed into witchhazel over time. The practice of dowsing is also called “water witching.” The practice of dowsing is questioned by modern scientists and the success rate of dowsers is often attributed to the fact that there are ample groundwater sources in most settled locations and if you dig deep enough you will find water.
- If planting in a home garden, plant witchhazel on the north side of your home or in semi-shaded habitats. It prefers rich moist soils and requires regular watering when being established.
- Wood Thrushes and Flycatchers use the plant for building nests.
Sources and Additional Information
- Arbor Day Foundation - Witchhazel
- U.S. Forest Service - American Witchhazel
- University of Maryland Extension - Common Witchhazel