Have you seen witch-hazel flowers this fall?

Fall continues to spread here in Oakland Township. The colorful blossoms of wildflowers wink out one at at time, like the lights in downtown storefronts after closing time. We see more fluffy seeds taking to the wind, spreading hope for new seedlings next year. But just as we think the flowers are gone, a new one pops onto the scene! Witch-hazel is blooming!

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a common medium sized shrub in the understory of our oak woodlands. Plants usually have many smooth-barked stems, some of which grow up to 20 feet tall. Unlike most shrubs, including the closely related Ozark witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), it blooms in the fall.

Witch-hazel has weird flowers, with petals resembling twisted ribbons.
Witch-hazel has weird flowers, with petals often resembling crinkly twisted ribbons.
Several clusters of witch-hazel flowers on a branch.
Several clusters of witch-hazel flowers on a branch.

The leaves and bark of this shrub were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, and we still find witch-hazel products offered as an astringent in the health and beauty section at the store.

On many shrubs, the leaves have dropped completely, leaving only the delicate yellow flowers on the stems.
On many shrubs, the leaves have dropped completely, leaving only the delicate yellow flowers on the stems.

As I looked up information about this cool native shrub, I found that it has explosive fruits, just like jewelweed that I wrote about in an earlier blog post. Apparently the fruits can throw the seeds 10 to 20 feet when they explode in the fall, making a noise. What fun it would be to experience seed dispersal in a stand of healthy patch of witch hazel! If I find some witch-hazel fruits soon, I’ll post pictures here.

If you’d like to find some witch-hazel this fall, hike the trails in the northern part of Bear Creek Nature Park or the trail through Lost Lake Nature Park.

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About Ben VanderWeide

I am the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation in southeast Michigan. I have a doctorate in biology (focused on plant ecology) and I am passionate about protecting and managing natural areas.

2 thoughts on “Have you seen witch-hazel flowers this fall?

  1. Hi Ben, I’m a member of Seven Ponds Nature Center and just read my newsletter. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see Seven Ponds Yet. They have a large prairie. Nov. 2 they are offering a prairie seed collecting day. Collectors can keep the seeds, I believe. The program starts at 1:00 and includes info on prairie plants. Their website is http://www.sevenponds.org The Executive Director is Mike Champagne, a great guy. Both Alice Tomboulian and I were naturalists at Seven Ponds a 100 years ago.

    Jane Hoyle

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