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.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- North America
- Mixed border,
- Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Wet sites,
- Clay soil
Season of Interest:
- Late winter,
- Early spring,
- Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
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.
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.