Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: Winter Blooming Witch Hazel

Hamamelis vernalis is a lovely native shrub/small tree that blooms when you have just about given up hope that winter will end and warmth will return to the world...In my Middle Tennessee garden it often begins blooming in early to mid January and it's not unusual for it to continue blooming into February and sometimes March.
Petals furled and unfurled
Ozark witch hazel's flowers are an unusual reddish color with four yellow/orange crepe paper streaming petals that unfurl as the day warms and furl back up when the temperature drops. This is a marvelous adaptive behavior that insures that the spidery blooms will survive the fluctuating winter weather and be in bloom for almost two months.

On a 50˚ day they perfume the air
They perfume the garden with their sweet clove vanilla scent on warm days. I planted them for the earliest visiting pollinators and for that unforgettable fragrance. Once you smell them, you will, want them in your garden, too.

I think they're spectacular in my mostly brown winter garden and I planted one along the front walkway so visitors can enjoy the blooms and their sweet scent.
Just before they burst open

It's no accident that most winter blooming plants have some fragrance...Nature had to insure that insect pollinators could easily find their way to a plant that blooms when most of the garden is fast asleep. I've seen honeybees in the garden on days where the temperatures are above 50˚, but, have only seen small gnats and flies visiting these beautiful fragrant flowers!

Witch hazels are indeed insect pollinated flowers, just check these clues out: They have long, bright-yellow petals, sweet smelling nectar and their stamens (pollen-bearing male bits) are right next to the nectar source. But, how you wonder is insect pollination possible in mid winter? Bernd Heinrich discovered that winter moths are responsible for pollinating witch hazels. These owlet moths have a remarkable ability to heat themselves by using energy to shiver, raising their body temperatures by as much as 50 degrees in order to fly in search of food.  (source). 

Nature and its critters are amazing!
The flowers are deep to bright red, rarely yellow, with four ribbon-shaped petals 7–10 mm (0.28–0.39 in) long and four short stamens, and grow in clusters
Long time readers know I have garden guidelines that I strive to follow. Simply stated I like to plant a mixture of Central Basin natives that have good to excellent wildlife value and that provide bloom as close to year round as is possible in a middle south garden. I have occasionally pushed the envelope and planted perennials and shrubs that are native to adjacent states or that grow in conditions similar  to Clay and Limestone*.  I pushed that envelope when I decided to plant Hamamelis vernalis/Ozark witch-hazel. It is not native to any where in Tennessee. It's found growing in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. I planted them for the earliest visiting pollinators and for its delightful perfume. It's happy in the garden, it gets fertilized by visiting critters and that makes me happy.

That's my story and I am sticking to it!

If you want to grow this Central South/Southern native shrub just give it a partially shady location with good morning sun, moist acid soil. It tolerates Clay and Limestone's more neutral soil, so, I am pretty sure you can have success with it, too. It has great fall color, attracts pollinators, and blooms for two months. Mine are species but, there are marvelous cultivars if you are so inclined!

The Particulars

Hamamelis vernalis
Common Name: Ozark witch hazel
Family: Hamamelidaceae
Type: Deciduous shrub  or small tree
Native Range: Southern and central United States in rocky stream banks, in moist open woodlands.
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 6.00 to 10.00 feet
Spread: 8.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: January to April
Bloom Description: Yellow with red inner calyx
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium, consistently moist. NOT drought tolerant
Maintenance: Low, does not need to be pruned
Suggested Use: Rain Garden, along creek banks,
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Good Fall color
Usage: Please plant them where you will be sure to appreciate them during the winter months. They can colonize and would make an effective screen along property boundary.  Use in mixed border or as a specimen.
Wildlife value: Habitat value for insects and for birds that come to nest in their branches. The seeds and flowers are eaten by turkey and ruffed grouse.
Comments: An important medicinal plant for many native American tribes. Twigs, leaves and bark are the basis of witch hazel extract.
Tolerate: Deer, Erosion, Clay Soil 

I love that not only does Hamamelis vernalis flower for months, it has a lovely fragrance. How clever of Mother Nature to give winter bloomers that something special to insure that moths, a little fly, gnat or bee will follow the scent and pollinate the flower.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants. It doesn't matter if they're in bloom (think winter sharing), how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.

*If you're new to C and L, my garden is a Central Basin woodland (there are some sunny areas) with dryer, heavier, shallow and neutral clay soil. I've unearthed enough limestone rocks to build several small walls and there's still more. Not too far below my plants is a thick layer of Ordovician limestone that makes for challenging gardening experiences. The native plants I've chosen are adapted to the environment and conditions at Clay and Limestone and provide food, nesting and/or shelter for mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. Humans seem to appreciate it, too.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. A handsome plant that is such a fun surprise when you are out hiking and find it blooming when there seems to be nothing else alive. I will never forget the first time I saw one in the wild for that very reason. Ole Bernd does write some fascinating books doesn't he.

    1. I would like to happen on one unexpectedly while hiking. Those are the plants that make an intense impression!

  2. I love Hamamelis and I'm so happy to see them bloom this time of year. How interesting - and lovely! - that H. vernalis is so clever as to unfurl and furl for months - we certainly need that kind of encouragement this time of year. Thanks for hosting Wildflower Wednesday; I'm joining you for the very first time today!

  3. I love Witch Hazel! I don't yet have it in my garden but it is on my wish list! The late season blooms are so lovely. Thank you for sharing, and for hosting WW! :)

  4. I hope mine will one day fill my garden with lots of fragrance!!

  5. Beautiful photos, Gail! I hope that I'm lucky enough to experience the alluring fragrance everyone is talking about. I see that they are hardy in our zone but I haven't noticed them growing anywhere here (although I'm the worst at plant identification, so that may also be the reason!).

  6. They are beautiful! H. vernalis isn't native here, but many folks plant them, as they're hardy to zone 4 and native near us. The local botanical garden and the arboretum have some in their collections, along with our native H. virginiana. Lovely trees. Thanks for hosting, Gail!

  7. Gail, do you also grow the virginiana species? The blooms are so small on my virginiana that I can hardly see them. Wish I had tried vernalis instead!

    1. That's disappointing, Jean. I have two H virginiana and the flowers are about the same size as this one. If you decide to plant H vernalis, you might look at one of the cultivars. The flowers look a bit larger.

  8. What a lovely winter feature, Gail. I am craving the color and scent of the H vernalis! I'm only familiar with the mollis and japonica crosses (Asian species). Does this one colonize for you?

    Though I am spectacularly late (does it count that I was WRITING my monster post on that Wednesday?), I am sharing my W.W. post (above). It's a photo tour of the lovely Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. You may or may not recognize the sunny day!

    1. I leave this up for a week so folks can join at any time and I am so glad you have. I do remember that rainy day! xo

  9. This sounds like a great little tree. I have its cousin, H. virginiana. It's not native here but it is hardy - I'd be tempted to plant it in the shady back garden except that our soil is quite alkaline.

  10. beautiful winter shots.
    have a great day

  11. These are wonderful photos and as a rookie gardener, I appreciate the detailed information you shared. Being from Puerto Rico, I have a deep love of witch hazel because my grandmothers used Amamelis as a remedy for so many things! And it is a lovely face toner too!

  12. This is my contribution : https://meinmitmach.blogspot.com/2019/02/die-kornblume.html
    Unfortunately, I have not been able to publish my link for a while.
    I would be happy if they could do that for me.
    I would like to join every week.
    Warm greetings from Germany

  13. Amazing photos! Thanks for posting.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson