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Stalking the Elusive Witch Hazel

by BookWorm

chinese witch hazel
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Appreciating one of winter's quiet stars



Having promised to post at least once a month to DigtheDirt, I settled upon witch hazel (Hamamelis) as my first topic. Piece of cake. I knew where to find at least one spectacular specimen and was sure that I had noticed several others in my own neighborhood.


A favorite harbinger of spring, witch hazel brightens January's gloomy winter days with its subtle shades of yelllow, orange, and copper. While not as showy as a forsythia or an early quince, the spidery flowers of the witch hazel have a delicate citrusy odor that freshens a stuffy heated room when brought inside. Some varieties of this deciduous bush also offer splashes of red before they lose their leaves in the fall.

Witch hazel, an old-fashioned plant, is so named because of the medieval belief that it protected one from witches. Modern witches use it in spells that guard against evil influences or heal broken hearts. Its bark and leaves can be used in astringent lotions to bathe bruises and soothe skin irritations. Dowsers, or water witches, use forked branches to find underground water before wells are dug.


The first stop on my quest was the campus of the University of Oregon, with its impessive variety of bushes and trees. To my dismay, the witch hazel bush I visit every year was gone! That beautiful twelve-foot bush had been removed so the sidewalk could be widened. Oh well, I knew there were others around, I'd just have to find them. As I walked my dog around town, logging 3 to 5 miles a day, I peered into yards seeking witch hazel. I couldn't find a singe one. I asked friends and neighbors, to no avail. Then, last weekend I spotted two while walking with husband and dog. Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me, but vowed to go out the next day. So I did, but even as I retraced our walk, I couldn't find the specimens again. Finally, after many frustrating treks up and down the hills of my neighborhood, we methodically drove up and down each street until we found them again.

Next time you're out and about, see if you can spot one.


More information can be founds on Ed Hume's website,


winter bloomers, whitch hazel


I love that plant - I will definitely be on the look out for it! <br/>
gardengirl commented on 01/26/10
I love Witch Hazel! I need to plant a couple of these for some winter interest... my tropical garden is downright depressing in the winter! Thanks for the post and great photos!
chief cultivator commented on 01/25/10
I gotta get me some of these- protect me from all those evil witches! And you are a maniac driving around and finding these!
FigTree commented on 01/25/10
It's true. I so have some OC components to my personality.
BookWorm replied: on 01/25/10