Know Your Natives – Ozark Witch Hazel

Ozark (or vernal) witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) of the Hamamelidaceae (Witch Hazel) Family is a suckering, multi-stemmed, medium-size shrub.  This winter-blooming deciduous shrub favors riparian habitats of mountainous areas of Arkansas, southern Missouri and limited sections of Oklahoma and Texas. 

Plants grow 10-12 feet tall.  Leaves are alternate, simple, three to five inches long, ovate to oblong with wavy-toothed margins with leaf bases often wedge-shaped attaching to a short petiole.  New leaves are bronze to reddish purple changing to green above and paler green and often fuzzy below.

Clustered flower buds, growing from previous year’s stems, are rounded and stalked with several flowers per stalk.  Flowering begins in early winter and continues into early spring. Fragrant flowers, ½ inch wide and long, have four ribbon-like reddish to yellowish petals and four short stamens.  Petals roll up on very cold days to avoid freeze damage.

Fruit, when mature, is a hard woody capsule (½ inch long) which explosively splits, ejecting two shiny black seeds several yards.  Old capsules are persistent.

Ozark witch hazel has good specimen value in a garden setting or in a naturalized area.   Plants have an irregular, rounded to vase-shaped form with open branching.  Winter flowers and butter-yellow fall color are assets.  Dry leaves persist into winter.  It grows well in moist well-drained soil in full sun to part shade, with best flowering in full sun.  Smooth gray to grey-brown bark on older stems is attractive. Growth rate is moderate to rapid.  Suckers can be easily removed.  Established plants are drought tolerant.

Flowers in January with dry leaves.

Flowers in January with dry leaves.

Flower clusters showing ribbon-like petals.

Flower clusters showing ribbon-like petals.

Immature seed capsules.

Immature seed capsules.

Witch Hazel 7

Previous year’s capsules and current year’s flowers on a very cold day.

Article and photos by Sid Vogelpohl

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