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TREES & Plants

Common witch-hazel

The yellow, strap-like flowers of this native shrub are among the last blooms to appear in fall, but are often hidden by the leaves. Common witch-hazel is a large shrub with a picturesque irregular branching habit that naturally grows along woodland edges. The large, rounded, dark green leaves often hang onto the winter branches. The fruit capsules mature a year after flowering, splitting open to expel seeds that are attaractive to robins, juncos, titmice, cardinals and other birds. Tolerant of road salt and clay soil, this is a great specimen plant, or can be used for screening, in masses, or as part of a naturalized landscape.

Botanical name: 
Hamamelis virginiana
All Common Names: 
Common witch hazel, Fall witch hazel, Fall-blooming witch hazel
Family (English): 
witch-hazel
Family (Botanic): 
Hamamelidaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Growth Rate: 
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Clay soil
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • Yellow
Size Range: 
  • Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet)
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular
  • Rounded
  • Upright
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Mixed border
Time of Year: 
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

15 to 25 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide; irregular form at maturity.

Tree & Plant Care

Performs best in moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter, but can tolerate clay soil. Mulch to keep soil moist. Avoid dry conditions. One of the most salt-tolerant shrubs. In part shade it will have a more open habit than in full sun. 

Disease, pests and problems

No serious problems.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Resistant to black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 8
Native to the eastern United States.
Commonly found in wooded areas.

Attracts birds & butterflies

Seeds are eaten by a number of species of birds.
Serves as a host plant for the larvae of the spring azure butterfly.

Bark color and texture 

Tan-colored lenticels are prominent in older grayish stems.

Common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
photo: John Hagstrom

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves are oval and  irregular with wavy or toothed margins; 6 inches long.
Leaves are green in summer, changing to a clear yelow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

 1 inch, yellow, strap-like petals flower in late October when leaves are still present.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit is a hairy capsule which ripens in the fall.