Mariton: Witch Hazel Blooming

October 12, 2013

by Tim Burris, Preserve Manager

The Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is blooming in Mariton’s woods right now.  Witch Hazel is a shrub or small tree.  An easy place to see them is along the South Fox Trail near the highest point of Mariton.  I am a big fan of Witch Hazels.  They usually have multiple stems and the trunks form graceful arches.  Again it baffles me why more people don’t landscape their yards with this native shrub.  Imagine a few clusters of Witch Hazel along the edge of the yard shading a bench…  So unique, so beautiful.

Besides its interesting shape, Witch Hazels bloom in the fall.  Blossoms are small and not particularly showy, but the color can remain after leaf drop.  In the gray/brown winter woods spying a small tree with a yellow halo makes one do a double take.  Because the petals are so thin, a halo, or glow around the tree is an apt description.  The flowers will turn into small nutlike capsules next summer.  In the photo below some flower buds are just beginning to open.

 Witch Hazel Blossoms

Tree/shrubs like Witch Hazel, Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum), Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifoilum), and others add a sub-canopy layer in our forests.  We often think about species when we talk about plant diversity in our forests.  There is also structural diversity.  Having a forest with herbaceous ground cover, short shrubs, small trees, and a mix of canopy trees is structurally diverse with several different horizontal layers.  Some animal species favor these types of forest.  A good example of this type of forest can be seen along the Main Trail out past the Woods Trail and continuing along the Chimney Rock Trail.   It is probably no coincidence that this is one of the richer bird areas at Mariton.