Hamamelis vernalis Sarg.

Ozark Witch-Hazel

Hamamelis vernalis plant

Family - Hamamelidaceae

Habit - Shrubs to 4 m tall, spreading by woody underground runners.

Hamamelis_vernalis_habit.jpg
Flowering plants.

Stems - Twigs moderately to densely stellate-hairy.

Leaves - Alternate, simple, pinnately veined, the margins coarsely toothed or with shallow rounded lobes, turning yellow to brown in autumn but generally persisting through the winter. Petioles 3-15 mm long. Leaf blades 7-12 cm long, 5.5-8.0 cm wide, elliptic or obovate, the base obtuse to rounded, weakly to moderately asymmetrical, sometimes narrowly cordate on one side and narrowed on the other, the tip rounded or broadly and bluntly pointed, the undersurface often glaucous.

Hamamelis_vernalis_leaf1.jpgLeaves.

Hamamelis_vernalis_leaf2.jpgLeaf abaxial.

Inflorescences - Axillary stalked clusters of mostly 3 flowers apiece.

Hamamelis_vernalis_inflorescence.jpgInflorescence.

Flowers - Perfect, strongly fragrant. Calyx 3-4 mm long, hemispherical, 4-lobed, brown, densely stellate-hairy, often persistent at fruiting. Petals 4, 10-15 mm long, narrowly strap-shaped, yellow, orange, or red. Stamens 4, alternating with 4 inconspicuous scalelike staminodes, the filaments short and broad, the anther sacs separated by broad connecting tissue. Styles curved outward or reflexed, persistent on the fruit as short beaks. Ovules 1 per locule.

Hamamelis_vernalis_flowers.jpgFlowers.

Hamamelis_vernalis_flowers2.jpg

Fruits - Capsules, 9-16 mm long, woody, brown, dehiscing explosively longitudinally along the midnerve of each locule, persistent long after the seeds are dispersed. Seeds 2 per fruit, 5-10 mm long, narrowly elliptic to oblong-elliptic in outline, black with a light colored attachment scar toward the base, shiny, not winged.

Hamamelis_vernalis_fruits.jpgFruits.

Flowering - January - April.

Habitat - Rocky streambanks, bases of wooded slopes.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - H. virginiana.

Other info. - This is consistently the first native plant to flower in early spring ... or even late winter. Under favorable conditions, a warm, sunny, late winter day will trigger massive flowering, with thousands of blooms filling the air with a sweet floral scent. Indeed, the flowering plants are often first detected by their fragrance. Insect pollinators are generally not abundant at this early time of year, but the flowers nevertheless attract small gnats and flies.

Hamamelis vernalis is common in the southeastern half of Missouri but absent from the northwestern half. Missouri and Arkansas account for most of the plant's natural range. The closely related H. virginianum is very similar in appearance and can be difficult to distinguish vegetatively. That species flowers in autumn, and the flowers have a lighter greenish-yellow color. The explosive dehiscence of Hamamelis fruits can cast the seeds for distances of 30 feet or more.

The name "witch hazel" derives from the old practice of divining for water, which was also called "water witching." Practitioners did not necessarily distinguish between the two available species of Hamamelis for this purpose, and both are known colloquially as "witch hazel." Hamamelis was used medicinally by Native Americans for treatment of sore throat, sores, and bruises. Witch hazel extract is still sold in some pharmacies as a topical lotion and tonic and for treatment of hemorrhoids and acne.

Photographs taken at Pea Ridge Conservation Area, Washington County, MO, 2-6-2012, 2-11-2013, and 7-11-2018, and Carman Springs Natural Area, Howell County, MO, 5-14-2019 (SRTurner).



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