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.
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.
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.