Plants - Trees and Shrubs

Witch hazel: A shrub that blooms in winter

The tiny yellow flowers are a welcome beacon of colour during the cold winter months


Planting witch hazel

Propagation by cuttings works best. Seeds require patience because germination time is notoriously slow (it could take more than a year). Harvest seed capsules while still green and put in a paper bag so the projectile seed will be captured. Fresh seeds should be stored at room temperature in a sealed paper bag or cardboard box (so they can dry out) for about five months, then at 4°C for three months before sowing in fall.

Which witch?

The name witch hazel probably originated from the early settlers' practice of using the plant's forked branches for water divining and to make brooms. It may also have derived from the Anglo-Saxon word wice, meaning “supple” or “pliant.” Hazel refers to the similarities between witch hazel and the true hazels of the genus Corylus. The plant also goes by several other common names, including striped alder and winterbloom. Another of its epithets, snapping hazel, comes from the sound its pods make when they ripen and snap open, shooting seeds up to 10 metres away. Its botanical name, Hamamelis, is derived from two Greek words: hama, meaning “together” and mela, meaning “fruit.” This refers to the fact that you'll sometimes find plants with flowers and fruit at the same time.

The good witch

Witch hazel extract (taken from the leaves, twigs and bark) has both astringent and sedative properties, and can be used to slow bleeding. It’s used in medicines, eye washes and aftershave, as well as salves for soothing insect bites, burns and poison-ivy rashes.

 

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