Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Witch hazel is a small, vase-shaped shrub. It's a late blooming bush with distinct yellow flowers. It is well known for its medicinal uses.
Stella Vujic, Lauren Stavig, Alaina Perry
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
vase-like shrub
Date of tree entry: 
2.30 m
Diameter at breast height: 
2.74 m

The bark of witch hazel can vary in shade from grey to light brown. Young witch hazel sprouts or branches are a more warm-toned brown that is deeper in color. The outer bark is thin, and the inner bark is a reddish brown. It is smooth to the touch. On thicker, more mature branches, it is easier to see the slight texture, which is made of intersecting ridges running vertically.
Twigs & branches
Witch hazel is a multi-stemmed plant. It is very bush-like, though it can grow to the size of a small tree. The base stems do not have a wide diameter, and they get ever thinner as they extend upward. The branches have multiple forks and are bent along their length. The forks of the branches alternate sides. They are thin and flexible.
Witch hazel leaves are a vibrant green when they emerge in spring. Their shape may be either ovate or obovate, and one plant often has leaves of both kind. They have pronounced pinnate venation, and the margins of the leaves are somewhere between dentate and crenate. In the fall, their leaves become a vibrant and recognizable yellow, though they may sometimes have a "burnt" appearance, where the leaves become a vibrant red along the edges. The leaves alternate along the branch and are 3-6 in. in size.
Reproductive Structures
The flowers of the witch hazel plant are small, approximately an inch across, but easily recognizable. In the spring, the buds emerge, and they look like tiny, dark yellow flowers with four tiny structures around the center, loosely resembling petals. When the actual flowers emerge from these buds in the fall, they are a bright yellow, have 4 narrow, ribbon-like petals, and the remnants of the bud can be seen at the base, spread open and the same shade of yellow. They grow in tight clusters. Their scent is rich and sweet. These flowers are particularly attractive to moths, which are their primary pollinators. Witch hazel blooms in the fall and stays flowered until the winter.
The fruits of witch hazel are dark brown, dry capsules. They are 0.5-1 inch in size. The early buds of these fruits, which grow at the ridges and the edges of branches, are slender, velvety, and come to a point. They take a year to come to maturity. The fruits mature at the same time that the flowers bloom in the fall, and the fruits grow from the flowers of the previous season. Mature fruits each contain two black seeds; when the capsule pops open, it may eject these seeds up to 30 feet away from the tree.
  • Winter Full Shrub
  • Winter Close Up
  • Spring Full Shrub (pt 1)
  • Spring Full Shrub (pt 2)
  • Spring Close up (pt 1)
  • Spring Close up (pt 2)
  • Spring (pt3)
They live in Eastern North America. It prefers acidic, moist soils. However it can tolerate soil with lots of clay
Origin, history, and uses: 

American witchhazel is a shrub native to Virginia. Today, it is commonly found across the Eastern seaboard, from Nova Scotia to Texas and northern Florida [1]. Its uses stretch back to precolonial times, when Native Americans in Viriginia would use its branches to locate water sources underground. Colonial settlers adopted this practice, and it became a common method to locate suitable locations for well-digging [1]. Witchhazel was also commonly used in traditional medicines. Its bark and leaves were used to treat a wide variety of conditions, ranging from bruises to eye problems. Today, witchhazel is commonly used as a mildly astringent skin tonic [2].

Witchhazel is a unique plant, as its flowers bloom in autumn rather than spring [1, 3]. Its bright yellow, fragrant flowers have four inch-long petals, eight stamens, and two pistils [3]. The flowers are pollinated by moths [1]. Witchhazel produces a woody fruit that splits open in autumn and ejects two seeds, 10-30 feet away [1, 3]. The ejection is so explosive that it makes an audible crackling sound [3]. The seeds take a year to germinate, and the tree does not begin to flower for at least six years [1]. Reproduction is entirely dependent on seed dispersal [3].

1. American Witchhazel. US Forest Service https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/hamamelis_virginiana.shtml.

2. Hamamelis virginiana. Witchhazel PFAF Plant Database https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Hamamelis+virginiana.

3. 2002 Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Virginiana). Virginia Native Plant Society https://vnps.org/wildflowers-of-the-year__trashed/2002-witch-hazel-hamamelis-virginiana/.

4. SINCE 1847: THE THAYERS NATURAL REMEDIES STORY. Thayers Natural Remedies https://www.thayers.com/history.html.

Other information of interest: 

Today, witchhazel is an extremely popular skincare product. Thayers, a skincare company based in Connecticut, uses witchhazel bark in its hugely succesful line of toners and astringents. They claim that tannins found in the bark balance the skin’s pH and serve as a natural acne remedy [4].

Media and Arts

Lamenting a Late Bloomer

Spring has arrived; the world is in full bloom

Yet you have not arrived, dear witch hazel!

Branches nearly barren; aura of gloom

Where’s your glory? Come forth for appraisal.

Oh my witch hazel, you round little bush

We lament and weep; may your buds come soon!

How can we give you a small helpful push?

Your flowers are missed on this afternoon.

Ah, we witches have a spell up our sleeves

A chant to coax your yellow blossoms out

As one, we’ll snatch them back from winter thieves

Together now, we shall cast it out loud:

Witch hazel, witch hazel, buds come alive

Through the fall season, you’re destined to thrive!

Shrub Canopy Area: