Hamamelis_flowersOK, a bit of a stretch with this entrant, as Hamamelis is more often a shrub rather than a tree, but there don’t seem to be any garden trees with a botanical name beginning with ‘H’ (go on, prove me wrong)!

Common name: ‘Witch – Hazel’ and occasionally for the North American species, ‘Winterbloom’

Native areas: A native of North America (3 species- ovalis, virginiana and vernalis) Japan (japonica) and China (mollis).

Historical notes: The name ‘Witch’ in witch-hazel has its origins in the middle english word ‘wiche’, from the Old English ‘wice’, meaning “pliant” or “bendable”. “Witch hazel” was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra) American colonists seem to have simply extended the familiar name to the new shrub they found in their new home. The use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England, may also have influenced the “witch” part of the name. The plant-hunter Charles Maries collected Hamamelis mollis for Veitch Nurseries from China  in 1879. It languished in nursery rows for years until it was noticed, propagated and put on the market in 1902.

Hamamelis in Colonial Park Arboretum and Gardens
Hamamelis in Colonial Park Arboretum and Gardens

Features: The witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 3–8 metres tall, rarely to 12 metres tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, oval, with a smooth or wavy margin. The genus name, Hamamelis, means “together with fruit”, referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year. H. virginiana blooms in September-November while the other species bloom from January-March. Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals 1–2 centimetres long, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule 1 centimetre long.

Uses:  Witch Hazels are popular ornamental shrubs, grown for their clusters of rich yellow to orange-red flowers which begin to expand in the autumn as or slightly before the leaves fall, and continue throughout the winter. Hamamelis virginiana is rarely seen in the nursery trade except for woodland/wildlife restoration projects and native plant enthusiasts. Much more common is H. mollis, which has bright red flowers that bloom in late winter instead of the yellow blossoms of H. virginiana which tend to be lost among the plant’s autumnal foliage. Numerous cultivars have been selected for use as garden shrubs, many of them derived from the hybrid H. x intermedia ‘Rehder’ (H. japonica × H. mollis). Jelena and Robert de Belder of Arboretum Kalmthout, selecting for red cultivars, found three: the first, with bronze flowers, was named ‘Jelena’; the next, with red flowers, was named ‘Diane’ (the name of their daughter); the last, with deep red flowers, was called ‘Livia’ (the name of their granddaughter). The cultivar ‘Arnold Promise’ (mature height 3- 5 metres) is recognised as one of the best yellow-flowering Witch – Hazels, with magnificent yellow flowers that contrast with the red inners, which sometimes last as long as two months without fading.

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Growing conditions: An open, sunny position is best, as plants become straggly in shade, although they do tolerate partial shade. Avoid exposed and windy positions. Young witch hazels can be damaged by hard frosts, so avoid frost pockets, or be prepared to protect plants with a couple of layers of horticultural fleece in their first few years if there is a hard winter or late spring frost. Witch hazels need free-draining soil conditions with an adequate supply of moisture. A light soil with plenty of added organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or compost, is best. They will tolerate heavy or clay soils if they are improved by digging in organic matter and by ensuring good drainage. Acid to neutral soil pH is preferred (pH 4.5-6.5). Witch hazels may tolerate deep soils over chalk, with plenty of added organic matter. If they become chlorotic (yellow) because of the high pH, then treatment with a chelated (sequestrated) iron fertiliser, ideally one that also contains manganese, can help. They are unlikely to tolerate shallow chalky soils.

Hamamelis virginiana
Hamamelis virginiana

Further information:

Wikipedia- Witch – Hazel

RHS- Hamamelis

Barcham trees directory- Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

7 plants for Winter Wonder

Old School Gardener

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