Winter Gold: Witch Hazel

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in flowers, Unmowed Blog, winter | 4 comments

My hands have never been so cold. I’m wearing gloves but they’re too thin, and the wind is howling. It’s what they used to call a lazy wind–it goes right through you instead of taking the trouble to go around. The skyscrapers of New York City make canyons for the wind to flow through like a bitter river. Cold gusts are slipping icy fingers down the back of my neck.
Central Park is full of trees, but there’s nary a leaf anywhere to be seen (not counting pine needles).  You wouldn’t think anything would be flowering now, in the darkest days of December.
And then I walk past a tree in full bloom.witch hazel in Central Park
Witch hazel is a native American shrub/small tree. It’s a plant of many uses, especially handy if you need to work magic or perform a spell. The wood is excellent for making magic wands. It’s the wood of choice for dowsing rods, those mystical tools that help you locate water deep underground. An extract of the bark is useful in banishing spells, to make something go away. Carrying a sprig of witch hazel (according to several witchcraft websites) is a magical way to cool the passions.
More prosaically, a bottled decoction of the leaves and bark (obtainable at your local pharmacy, no magic required) is great for soothing poison ivy, sunburn, and bug bites.witch hazel in Central Park
But the most amazing thing about witch hazel is that it flowers long after every other plant is done with blooming.
Most witch hazels begin their bloom in late October, right around Halloween. But some varieties, also called winterbloom, flower even later than that.
witch hazelThis dainty flower looks as if a chilly April breeze would shrivel it. But it’s flourishing, with lemon-yellow petals outstretched, in the middle of the darkest days of winter.


  1. Do Witch Hazels survive the more northerly clime of the capital region?

    • Definitely, but the ones I’ve seen around here seem to bloom in October.

  2. Thanks for the facts on witch hazel! I will look for one today when I’m in the city!

    • They’re so beautiful. Not in bloom any more, sadly, but it’s amazing how much cold they can take—more than me!

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