Saturday, October 31, 2015


Can you believe this? Flowering in late October, and into November?

I'd like to introduce you to the WITCH ...

Witch Hazel.

Hazel has the distinction of being Michigan's only woody plant which blossoms in late autumn, sometimes after the first snowfall. It is the last flowering plant that Father Nature knows of.

Witch Hazel is a common shrub, or small tree, growing in the understory of other hardwood, deciduous trees. Typically 12 to 20 feet (4 - 7 m.) tall.

Its growth form displays several arching or crooked stems that together produce an irregular, open crown. 

Each clump is one plant. They are slow growing, and moderately shade tolerant.

The leaves are generally oval, with uneven bases, 4 - 6" (10-15 cm) long, and attached to the slender twigs by short petioles. And, as you can see, very conspicuously veined.

The wavy-edged margin is slightly toothed or shallow-toothed. (For the serious Botanists out there: a sinuate-dentated margin) You could also call it scalloped.

The tawny, lateral buds are barely noticeable, being naked, except for two small scales. Terminal buds, at the end of twigs, are slightly larger, and flattened.

Flowers are usually in clusters of three; sometimes four or five. See the four-lobed calyx, and four petals, shaped like tiny, yellow ribbons, each a half-inch (1.5 cm) long.

In the bud, these petals are rolled inward in a tight, close spiral; like a watch spring.

Coiled tightly into a solid, little ball, only a few millimeters in diameter.

After the leaves have fallen, these yellow, starry flowers are more conspicuous, and bring light and warmth to the woods in late Fall.

(Starting to split open)

The nuts, or capsules, require a full year to mature. They are about 1/2" (1.5 cm) long, and covered in a velvety outer husk. These shown above, are just slightly  larger than life size.

(Split open, seeds scattered)

The inner shell is extremely hard and contains two, brown-black seeds. They are polished and smooth. I was unable to find any of these tiny, shiny seeds. Perhaps your kids can crawl around on the forest floor and come up with some. Better yet, prune a few twigs containing these capsules, and take them indoors. When they dry out, if they're mature, they will blast out the seed with amazing force. If you're lucky, you will hear them ricocheting across the counter, or bouncing onto the kitchen floor. In the wild, they are expelled with power; shot out 10 - 20 feet (3-7 m) from the parent plant.

Father Nature did this years ago. If you need some minor entertainment, it works. Maybe the seeds will pop when the kids are quietly doing their homework, like it happened for his kids, back in the day.


Witch Hazel oil, distilled mainly from the twigs, is one of those all-purpose healing remedies legitimized by long tradition if not by medical science. It is still an over-the-counter item in drugstores.

Another ancient tradition is the use of forked Witch Hazel branches as "divining rods" for "water witching". People who believed in its powers swore on its ability to point to underground water, coal, tin, and copper lodes.

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Slender twigs hold clustered blossoms.

Unfolding their bent and wrinkled, strap-like petals...

... into fine, narrow bands.

"In the dusky, somber woodland, thwarting vistas dull and cold,

Thrown in vivid constellations, gleam the hazel stars of gold,

Gracious gift of wealth untold." Anna Botsford Comstock  (1854 - 1930)


Handbook of Nature Study - Anna Botsford Comstock  (Comstock)
Cornell University Press  c 1911, 1939

Michigan Trees - Charles Herbert Otis  (Otis)
 University of Michigan Press  c 1931, 1965

Textbook of Dendrology - William Harlow, & Ellwood S. Harrar  (Dendrology)
McGraw-Hill Co.  c 1937, 1958

The Book of Forest and Thicket - John Eastman  (Eastman)
Stackpole Books  c 1992

Photo Locations:

Home Woods

Egypt Valley State Game Area,  (Egypt Valley)  Kent County,  Michigan (Michigan)