Witch Hunt

Witch-hazel FlowersToday I went on a witch hunt…  A hunt for Witch-hazel, that is…  the last flower to bloom in the fall.

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a shrub or small tree that may reach a height of 20-30 feet.  It likes moist soils and often grows under the canopy of maples and oaks.  The strange, spider-like flower appears in late October – or even later sometimes.

Stan Tekiela claims in his field guide Trees of New York that the “Witch” part of the name comes from “a myth of witchcraft” that a forked branch of this tree can be used as a divining rod to find undeground water.  He claims that the “-hazel” part of the name comes from the fact that the leaves resemble those on a hazel shrub.  At Steven Foster’s botanical website, Foster agrees with the use of the branches for dowsing, but he says, “This has nothing to do with witches, but rather originates from the old English word for pliable branches, wych.”

Witch-Hazel FruitsI have also heard from naturalists that it is called witch-hazel because it blooms around Halloween time, or because the galls that often form on its leaves in summer resemble tiny witches’ hats.

I find it remarkable that the fruits take nearly a year to set and that you can often find blossoms on the tree at the same time you find the previous year’s mature fruits.  I also find it remarkable that the mature fruits will eventually dry and burst open expelling with considerable force two shiny black seeds up to 15 feet from the tree.

The list of medicinal uses in the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs is long.  You are probably familiar with Witch-hazel astringent, a clear liquid available in drugstores for skin toning, bruises, and other ailments.

My witch hunt was successful; I found trees in bloom… But Witch-hazel was NOT the only flower in bloom.  I was rather surprised at the long list of plants still producing flowers:

Butter and Eggs
Butter and Eggs

Common Blackberry
Common Blackberry

Deptford Pink
Deptford Pink

Field Milkwort
Field Milkwort

Queen Anne's Lace
Queen Anne’s Lace

Red Clover
Red Clover

(Also saw Musk Mallow… but didn’t photograph it…)

I guess summer just doesn’t want to let go!

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2 thoughts on “Witch Hunt

  1. Hi Jennifer, I read your blog on a regular basis and I love your commentary. Nice Shot of the flowers! If you enjoy wildlife folklore, and you haven’t read these books yet, you should try reading the folklore series by Laura Martin.

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