Plant Profile: Hamamelis vernalis (Vernal Witch Hazel)

When I have mentioned to non-gardeners that I have witch hazel growing in our landscape, many of them attain a look of wonderment. Many are familiar with the name witch hazel, having seen it on the back of herbal remedies and other therapuetic remedies for inflammation. Some are familiar with its use as the source of divining rods. But despite its popularity and functional uses, most people don’t think of witch hazel as a valuable landscape plant.

Hamamelis vernalis (Vernal Witch Hazel) is a hardy shrub (Zones 5-8) that grows 6-12 feet tall. In the decade we’ve lived in our home, our specimen has grown relatively unpruned from about 4-5 feet tall to about 8 feet tall, and stands about 5 feet wide.

Pictured here on the back left, witch hazel provides a dense background to summer-blooming perennials.
The leathery, ruffled leaves vary in color from a spring to forest green during the spring and summer months.
As autumn brings cooler nights, the green in the leaves retreats towards the midrib and veins, revealing a brilliant yellow and russet brown edging.

Eventually the green disappears, and just the brown-edged gold remains. Perhaps due to its sheltered location along our back fence, our specimen holds its leaves for several weeks, providing a beautiful highlight and companion to the honey locust that grows above.

After the leaves fall, next year’s flower buds start to swell along the bare stems, hanging in groups, barely distinguishable in color from the bark.

In late winter, the flower buds burst with multi-colored orange flowers, whose spidery petals glow in contrast to the otherwise dormant garden.

Hamamelis vernalis is one of my personal favorites in the garden, perhaps because of its role as the harbinger of spring. But it is truly a four-season shrub, providing a dense backdrop to the garden during warm weather, and texture and color to the landscape in the fall and winter.

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One thought on “Plant Profile: Hamamelis vernalis (Vernal Witch Hazel)

  1. Was searching about witch hazel plants yesterday and definitly know you appreciate it in all seasons. I am in Z.7, do you think I would get simliar results? Thanks – new follower by way of Shawna.

    Like

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