(Hamamelis Virginiana) Witch-hazel family

Flowers - Yellow, fringy, clustered in the axils of branches.

Calyx 4-parted; 4 very narrow curving petals about 34 in. long; 4

short stamens, also 4 that are scale-like; 2 styles. Stem: A

tall, crooked shrub. Leaves: Broadly oval, thick, wavy-toothed,

mostly fallen at flowering time. Fruit: Woody capsules maturing

the next season and remaining with flowers of the succeeding year

(Hama = together with; mela = fruit).

Preferred Habitat - Moist woods or thickets near streams.

Flowering Season - August-December.

Distribution - Nova Scotia and Minnesota, southward to the Gulf


To find a stray. apple blossom among the fruit in autumn, or an

occasional violet deceived by caressing Indian Summer into

thinking another spring has come, surprises no one; but when the

witch-hazel bursts into bloom for the first time in November, as

if it were April, its leafless twigs conspicuous in the gray

woods with their clusters of spidery pale yellow flowers, we

cannot but wonder with Edward Rowland Sill:

"Has time grown sleepy at his post

And let the exiled Summer back?

Or is it her regretful ghost,

Or witchcraft of the almanac?"

Not to the blue gentian but to the witch-hazel should Bryant have

addressed at least the first stanza of his familiar lines (See

Fringed Gentian). The shrub doubtless gives the small bees and

flies their last feast of the season in consideration of their

services in transferring pollen from the staminate to the fertile

flowers. Very slowly through the succeeding year the seeds within

the woody capsules mature until, by the following autumn, when

fresh flowers appear, they are ready to bombard the neighborhood

after the violets' method, in the hope of landing in moist

yielding soil far from the parent shrub to found a new colony.

Just as a watermelon seed shoots from between the thumb and

forefinger pinching it, so the large, bony, shining black,

white-tipped witch-hazel seeds are discharged through the elastic

rupture of their capsule whose walls pinch them out. To be

suddenly hit in the face by such a missile brings no smile while

the sting lasts. Witch-hazel twigs ripening indoors transform a

peaceful living room into a defenseless target for light

artillery practice.

Nowhere more than in the naming of wild flowers can we trace the

homesickness of the early English colonists in America. Any plant

even remotely resembling one they had known at home was given the

dear familiar name. Now our witch-hazel, named for an English

hazel tree of elm lineage, has similar leaves it is true, but

likeness stops there; nevertheless, all the folklore clustered

about that mystic tree has been imported here with the title. By

the help of the hazel's divining-rod the location of hidden

springs of water, precious ore, treasure, and thieves may be

revealed, according to old superstition. Cornish miners, who live

in a land so plentifully stored with tin and copper lodes they

can have had little difficulty in locating seams of ore with or

without a hazel rod, scarcely ever sink a shaft except by its


The literature of Europe is filled with allusions to it. Swift


"They tell us something strange and odd

About a certain magic rod

That, bending down its top divines

Where'er the soil has hidden mines

Where there are none, it stands erect

Scorning to show the least respect."

A good story is told on Linnaeus in Baring-Gould's "Curious Myths

of the Middle Ages": "When the great botanist was on one of his

voyages, hearing his secretary highly extol the virtues of his

divining-wand, he was willing to convince him of its

insufficiency, and for that purpose concealed a purse of one

hundred ducats under a ranunculus, which grew by itself in a

meadow, and bid the secretary find it if he could. The wand

discovered nothing, and Linnaeus's mark was soon trampled down by

the company present, so that when he went to finish the

experiment by fetching the gold himself, he was utterly at a loss

where to find it. The man with the wand assisted him, and

informed him that it could not lie in the way they were going,

but quite the contrary so they pursued the direction of the wand,

and actually dug out the gold. Linnaeus said that another such

experiment would be sufficient to make a proselyte of him."

Many a well has been dug even in this land of liberty where our

witch-hazel indicated; but here its kindly magic is directed

chiefly through the soothing extract distilled from its juices.

WILD SPIKENARD FALSE SOLOMON'S SEAL SOLOMON'S ZIGZAG WOOD ANEMONE WIND FLOWER facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail