Plant of the Month February 2017

Hamamelis  known as Witch hazel is a deciduous shrub in the family Hamamelidaceae originating in N.America, Japan and China. The flowers appear in clusters in the short cold days of winter, with each spidery flower having four strap petals in colours ranging from pale yellow to dark red. On mild days they fill the air with their spicy fragrance. The petals are fully frost hardy. No other winter flowering tree or shrub can match this. In the autumn the green leaves turn vivid shades of yellow orange and red.

Hamamelis means ‘together with fruit’ as the flowers are borne at the same time as the previous years ripening seeds. The seeds are formed in a capsule that explodes. It has been known to expel seeds up to 9 metres. Hence its other name ‘snapping hazel’. The name ‘witch’ derives from Middle English ‘wiche’ and Old English ‘wice’ meaning pliant or bendable. Although unrelated to hazel (Corylus) both were used in water divining.


The plants most commonly seen in our gardens are selections of the hybrid Hamamelis x intermedia. These are crosses between the Chinese H.mollis and the Japanese H. japonica together inheriting the best characteristics from both parents.

At a recent trial 138 cultivars were assessed by the Royal Horticultural Society. Seventeen were given or recommended for their Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Among the most popular are H.Pallida yellow, H. Jalena bronze and H.Diane red.

All prefer an acid to neutral soil PH 4.5 to 6.5 and will not thrive in chalky soil.

Many are grafted onto the vigorous H. Virginiana rootstock. Non-flowering stems emerging from below the graft should be removed.

The well known medicinal use of the plant is derived from the leaves and bark to produce an astringent. This mainly is used on bruises and soft tissue swelling.

 At Reveley there is a small group of H. Pallida at the top of the woodland walk at the approach to the vegetable garden and a very fine H.Diane in the middle of the medicinal bed in the mulberry garden.

H. Diane was named after the daughter of Jelena and Robert de Belder who were selecting red cultivars, and chose this impressive plant to have their daughter’s name.    

 Previous Months

January 2017

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