Nature’s Ways … Witch-hazel — the last native plant to flower each year | Centre County Gazette


One doesn’t sometimes anticipate to see crops flowering outdoor at the time of year — besides perhaps potted mums.

The last native Pennsylvania plant to flower each year is the witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a small understory tree.

The genus identify Hamamelis means “together with fruit,” which refers to the flower blooming at the identical time as the ripening fruit from the earlier year.

Frilly yellow witch hazel flowers, typically in clusters of three and each bearing 4 skinny ribbon-like petals, first seem in late October and often proceed blooming for over a month.

The flowers are believed to be insect-pollinated.

Witch hazel bushes develop in what seem to be small clumps, with a number of stems really originating from the identical root system. They develop slowly, however efficiently, in the shade of different deciduous bushes. Typical specimens are 8 to 15 ft tall with trunks measuring 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

While they’ll develop in comparatively shady areas, the healthiest-looking bushes are often discovered rising close to the forest edge the place they’ll get extra daylight.

The wavy-edged leaves of witch-hazel are three to 5 inches lengthy, with very distinctive veins. They are easy or barely tough on the higher floor and considerably bushy under. If divided by the midrib, the leaves seem lopsided — with one aspect nearly at all times bigger than the different.

A vivid yellow coloration seems after the darkish inexperienced chlorophyll fades someday throughout October. The distinctive, one-quarter-inch-high thorn-like projections typically discovered on the higher floor of leaves are literally galls attributable to aphids.

Another uncommon witch-hazel attribute is its capability to shoot off its seeds. Sometime throughout late fall or winter, their yellowish-tan seed pods start to crack open at the middle. The opening pod exerts growing strain on the two black bullet-like seeds held inside.

When the strain will get too nice, the seeds shoot out considerably like a slippery watermelon seed squeezed between two fingers.

When I first examine this a few years in the past, I imagined the seeds taking pictures off a number of ft.

However, in my highschool classroom, witch-hazel pods have shot seeds over 30 ft. Try doing that with a watermelon seed.

Witch-hazel’s quarter-inch seeds are eaten by ruffed grouse and fox squirrels in addition to different animals. Deer browse on the leaves.

Young twigs are eaten by deer and beaver. Grouse additionally eat the yellow flowers.

This plant was the supply of a number of old-time cures, with industrial manufacturing of witch-hazel merchandise starting in New England in the mid-1800s. An over-thecounter ointment remains to be made via steam distillation of witch-hazel leaves, bark or twigs.

The clear liquid often has about 15 p.c ethyl alcohol. Witch-hazel ointment is bought in drug shops as a light astringent for exterior use solely. It is used to deal with pimples, diaper rash and hemorrhoids.

The oil, which is extracted from the twigs, can be added in minute quantities to shampoos, lotions, lotions, and different client merchandise in an try to make them appear extra “natural.”

Although it’s thought to be our commonest small tree, many individuals have by no means seen it. The finest time to prospect for witch-hazel is simply after most bushes have shed their leaves.

It shouldn’t be uncommon to see a witch-hazel nonetheless blooming at Thanksgiving and even into early December.