The Witch Hazel (Hamamelis sp.) is a small tree with an open vase-like structure that is treasured for its colorful foliage in fall and its beautiful flowers in late winter.
To me, the blossoms resemble a bunch of tiny ballerinas or faeries dancing along the bare branches. Others liken them to spiders or ribbon fringe. Many of them are quite fragrant. The scent is often spicey with a touch of citrus.
If you are a Witch Hazel aficionado, a visit to Green Spring Gardens in late winter should be on your bucket list, as the extensive Hamamelis plantings, with more than 215 Witch Hazels and 110 different types or unique taxa, were designated as an official Plant Collections Network (PCN) collection in 2006.
Virginia’s special connection to the species began when the British botanist, the Reverend John Banister, discovered the common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in 1678. This native witch hazel blooms in fall and is not as showy as its Asian relatives. It does have medicinal properties and is good food source for pollinators.
Witch hazels like well-drained, but evenly moist soil. They are forest understory plants that require some shade from the full summer sun. They are not usually troubled by pests or diseases.
Witch hazels are deciduous. In the fall, the leaves turn a golden-bronze, then drop off. Well, most drop-off, but same hang on for months. Many gardeners strip them off as they are impatient and want to see the flowers unobscured by the now tattered and brown foliage.