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TREES & plants

Vernal witch-hazel

In late winter or very early spring, before the leaves unfurl, Vernal witch-hazel has yellow and orange-to-red flowers with a spicy fragrance that appears in late February and last three to four weeks. The new foliage is an attractive bronzy-red color that matures to dark green and then turns a rich butter yellow to golden yellow in fall. The dried leaves often persist into winter. The fruit capsules mature in September or October, when they split to expel black seeds that are attractive to birds. The plants can sucker to form colonies. This is a great specimen plant for naturalized landscape.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

 

Botanical name: 
Hamamelis vernalis
All Common Names: 
vernal witch-hazel, spring witch-hazel, witch-hazel; vernal witch hazel, witch hazel, witchhazel
Family (English): 
Hamamelidaceae
Family (Botanic): 
witch-hazel
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Hedge
  • Mixed border
Size Range: 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Season of Interest: 
  • Late winter
  • Early spring
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • Orange
  • Red
  • Yellow
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Round
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate
More Information: 

Size and Form

6 to 10 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide; rounded to upright form.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun to part shade. Tolerant of moist soil but prefers well-drained, rich organic soils.
Avoid dry conditions.  In part shade it will have a more open habit than in full sun.
Prune in late winter to removed dead stems and to keep in shape. Cut stems can be forced inside to bloom.

Disease, pests, and problems

No serious problems, occassionally powdery mildew.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Will tolerate poorly drained clay soil.
More tolerant of high pH (alkaline) soil than the Chicago native common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana).
Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana.

Attracts birds & butterflies

Seeds released in fall are eaten by a number of species of bird.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is gray to gray-brown and relatively smooth.
Younger twigs have velvety-hairs.

Vernal witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)Vernal witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)photo: John Hagstrom

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves; oval with broadly toothed margins; 2 to 5 inches long.
New leaves emerge with a bronze or red cast, then turn to a medium green.
Fall color is a good yellow.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Yellow, orange or red flowers with 4 strap-like petals in late winter to very early spring; very fragrant.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Dry capsule, not ornamentally important.

Cultivars and their differences

>Autumn Embers vernal witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis 'Autumn Embers'): Upright form, 8 to 10 feet high and 10 feet wide; orange fragrant strap-like flowers; red-purple fall color

Red-flowered vernal witch-hazel  (Hamamelis vernalis f. carnea):  red-flowered form.

Sandra vernal witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis 'Sandra'): A large, upright form 10 feet high and 10 to 12 feet wide; yellow fragrant flowers; orange-red to plum-red fall color.