Witch hazel is a very interesting tree with many virtues. Unfortunately in our country they are not very widespread and it is really a pity: in fact, up close, they are really of a rare beauty and have the undoubted merit of producing corollas when, especially in the northern regions, the other trees are almost bare. Furthermore, they do not fear frost at all, since the flowering is maintained even when the thermometer reaches -10 ° C.
In addition to their bright color, they have the undoubted merit of giving off a sweet and very pleasant scent in the cold air. In autumn the leaves light up with a beautiful copper and add a warm touch to the garden.
Shrub or small deciduous tree originating in the United States and Canada; with medium-fast growth, it can reach two to three meters in height, however, tending to grow in width; this very decorative plant is often neglected in gardens, but it is widely used in herbal medicine and in the cosmetic industry for its properties. The witch hazel is a very decorative plant, especially because the flowers bloom in the middle of winter, between December and February, and the flowering usually lasts until the beginning of spring; the flowers, delicately scented, are golden yellow, ocher or red, they bloom together in small bunches, and are characterized by four petals and four ribbon-shaped, pendulous sepals, which tend to roll up with cold. In spring the plant is covered with delicate gray-green leaves, covered with a soft down. From Asia come species of larger flowers, which also have a decorative autumnal coloration of the leaves, which become apricot in the first colds: H. mollis, a native of China, and H. japonica, a native of Japan.
Family and gender Hamameliaceae, gen. Hamamelis, 8 speciesType of plant Tree or shrub up to 8 meters high, deciduousExposure Sun, half-shadeRustic Very rusticGround Rich, acid or subacid, slightly moistcolors Flowers from yellow to red to brownIrrigation Adjust, avoiding stagnationFlowering From autumn to spring, depending on the speciesComposting In springExposure and rusticity
The witch hazel prefers the sunny positions, but it adapts well even in semi-shaded places; it does not fear the cold, more easily it fears the heat of hot summers, in July and August it is often advisable to shade the plant, to avoid that it suffers too much heat and drought. When choosing the site in which to place this shrub it is good to remember that it tends to grow much in width; let's not worry if for the first time it seems not to grow, since the witch may take a few years to settle in the place where it was buried.
These are generally very rustic plants. They can also withstand -20 ° C, with peaks of -35 ° (in particular the very resistant virginiana which in fact is often used as a rootstock). They can therefore be grown safely throughout Italy, from the floor up to even 1000 meters above sea level.
Instead, they can be sensitive to heat and especially to dryness. It is therefore good, if we live in the southern regions or on the coasts, to meditate well on their positioning.
If in the North, in fact, the best exposure is the full sun, it will be better, in the South, to reserve for them more sheltered and shaded corners.
It is equally important that they are in an area sheltered from the wind. This, in fact, especially during winter flowering, could damage the buds or cause the petals to fall. Frost, on the other hand, is not a problem. The corollas are able to withstand even ice and snow.
Watering and fertilizing
This beautiful garden plant needs abundant water, especially in the period from April to September; starting from the end of the frosts, it is good to keep the soil controlled, increasing it if it dries too much. In autumn it is good to bury a good quantity of organic fertilizer at the foot of the shrub.
The soil must always be kept cool. We can help by creating a thick mulch with leaves or grass. We regulate regularly, especially in the South, but avoid stagnation.
It is always a good idea to spread a good amount of mature flour manure at the foot of the plants, before winter arrives. To this, in spring, a slow release fertilizer for flowering plants can be added.
Hamamelis appreciate a well-drained but fresh soil, rich in humus and with a fairly acid pH. If ours were too clayey we could eventually incorporate peat, sand and mature manure.
The only variety that tolerates the calcareous soil quite well is the mollis.
It prefers acid soils, although it is often suitable also in clay soils, the important thing is that they are soft, rich in humus and very well drained. If the soil of our garden has a ph value that is too alkaline, it is advisable to fill the hole where the hamamelis is to be buried with a good soil for acidophilic plants, this will certainly improve the development of the plant, even if it is advisable to repeat the operation after a few years, removing the plant and supplying further acid soil.
In the period of May-June it is possible to take cuttings, which must be rooted in a mixture of peat and sand in equal parts, the new plants must be kept in pots in a sheltered place for at least two years before being planted. In spring small brown fruits occur in the flowers, inside which we can find small black seeds, we can keep them in a cold place and sow them the following spring, the germination is quite high, but it is advisable to wait at least 3-4 years before placing the dwelling seedlings.
Pests and diseases
This plant is quite rustic and is hardly attacked by pests and diseases. Like many acidophilic plants it easily suffers from ferric chlorosis.
They are sometimes struck by the armillary. This is introduced at the level of the roots and quickly destroys the plant. The only way to avoid it is through careful prevention. Absolutely avoid over-watering and creating stagnation. Eventually we lighten the soil by incorporating sand, manure or peat.
The hamamelis virginiana was discovered in the mid-1700s by the American botanist John Bartram. He arrived in Europe in a short time. The japonica and mollis species, on the other hand, had to wait until at least the middle of the nineteenth century to be introduced into England.
The first hybrids saw the light in Denmark around 1920. It continued on that road, particularly in the Dutch and Belgian nurseries.
Flowers, leaves and fruits
The flowers may appear, depending on the variety, in autumn, winter or early spring, generally waiting for the temperatures to rise above the freezing level. It may happen that the shrubs that produce flowers in spring bloom again slightly towards October.
The flowers consist of 4 petals about 2 cm long and 4 stamens. The color can vary from light yellow to brown, red and, exceptionally, violet.
The perfume, very powerful, is a cross between that of hyacinth and narcissus.
The leaves are deciduous, alternate. The border, depending on the species, is more or less wavy or toothed and often has asymmetries. They measure from 8 to 15 cm in length.
The fruits are capsules containing 2 black seeds. They reach maturity when the plant is about to bloom again. The seeds, when they are ready, are thrown away and can be found, without other help, even up to 6 m away.
Hamamelis japonica blooms from January to March and can reach 9 meters in height. It is native to the forests of Japan. It has deciduous, elongated-ovate leaves, up to 10 cm long. The flowers are large and gathered in dense racemes, with short peduncles, of golden yellow color. The sepals are instead purple, especially in the inner part. Several cultivars are available. The tree has larger leaves and golden yellow petals. The most vigorous is instead the zuccariniana, with light yellow flowers. It flowers about a month later than the species.
There are also varieties with red or dark red flowers, including the flavopurpurascens, the adonis, the carmine red and the Ruby Glow.
Hamamelis mollis is a tree up to 5 meters high that produces very fragrant flowers from February to April. Comes from China. The leaves are 8-16 cm long and up to 11 wide. The upper page is very shiny and with metallic reflections, very decorative. The lower page is instead tomentosa. The flowers, in this case, are dark yellow. Also in this case some cultivars are available. In particular, we can mention the patented patent Feuerzauber characterized by red flowers. Another very interesting is the pale with pale yellow inflorescences. The Goldcrest is also interesting, with bright yellow flowers and a later flowering than the species.
Tree native to eastern North America, Hamamelis virginiana is still widespread today from Canada to Georgia up to Nebraska. It has ovate leaves, up to 15 cm long, asymmetrical, first tomentose, then glabrous. The flowers are yellow and appear in autumn, between September and October, before or in conjunction with the fall of the leaves.
Hamamelis Vernalis comes from North America. It is widespread in the states of Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. It is very similar to the virginiana, but the floral calyx is more red internally. The flowers, produced between January and March, are light yellow and give off a sweet fragrance. It is very decorative due to the autumn coloring of the leaves, which turns to an intense yellow. It spreads easily for stolons; if you want to keep it compact it is therefore good to buy a grafted specimen. The Amethyst cultivar is interesting for its violet-colored inflorescences and the greyish appearance of the foliage.
Hamamelis x intermediate and other cultivars
Hamamelis x intermedia are interspecific hybrids. They find different applications in the garden, enhancing the virtues of their ancestors.
Some interesting cultivars are:
• Arnold promised with golden flowers and purple calyx, with a delicate fragrance, between February and March.
• Spring pale yellow petals
• Jelena petals with ocher with red spots at the base, between January and February. The leaves in autumn turn first to bronze and then to orange.
• Diane bears large garnet, fragrant, and yellow and red leaves in autumn
• Westerstede light yellow flowers, between February and March.
One must always proceed after flowering, although interventions are rarely necessary except to eliminate dead, damaged or growing branches in inelegant or pleasant directions.
Witch hazel - Hamamelis virginiana: Medicinal properties
Hamamelis is well known in the pharmacopoeia. The Indians used the extract of the inner bark for applications and compresses in case of inflammation. The active ingredient has a sedative and vasoconstrictor action and is still used today.
Hamamelis are medium-sized shrubs that normally do not exceed 5-6 meters in height; most of the spe