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Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Hamamelis, Woody plant propagation

Do you have any information on how to propagate vernal witch hazel?


To propagate vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), Michael Dirr's Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation (Varsity Press, 1987) says the following:

From seed:
70% germination after 3 months cold stratification,
75% after 3 warm months/3 cold,
81% after 4 warm months/3 cold,
85% after 5 warm/3 cold.
Fall planting improves success.

From cuttings:
Easy to root and keep alive.

Grafting is not used much as a propagation method.

The American Horticultural Society's book, Plant Propagation (DK Publishing, 1999) says that softwood cuttings do not overwinter well. One should take early nodal stem-tip cuttings as soon as new growth in spring is 2 3/4 - 4 inches long. Provide bottom heat and rooting hormone to speed rooting in 6-8 weeks. Layering can also be done in spring. Grafting can be done in late summer.

The following is from the Royal Horticultural Society:

"To propagate by seed, harvest as soon as the fruits mature in late summer to early autumn and sow in a cold frame promptly before they have a chance to dry out. Fresh seeds may take up to 18 months to germinate. When the seedlings appear, prick them out and pot them up for overwintering in the greenhouse for their first year. They can be planted out late the following spring and will reach flowering size in about six years. Witch hazel suckers freely and also can be propagated by layering in early spring or autumn. Layering works well, but the process will take a year. Softwood cuttings can be rooted in the summer. Volunteer seedlings can also be potted up and transplanted."

Date 2017-07-18
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Leaf marcescence, Leaf abscission, Hamamelis

I'm wondering if there is a way to get the leaves to drop off of my witch hazel in the fall, or before it blooms?


Some witch hazels have a habit of holding onto their dead leaves (this is called marcescence). Leaf drop (leaf abscission) can also be affected by weather patterns or by the age of the tree. The only way to get them off the tree before they finally do it themselves is to remove them by hand.

An article by Phil Clayton, published in the January 2007 issue of The Garden, mentions that some yellow-flowered varieties have this trait. Here is an excerpt which quotes Hamamelis expert Chris Lane:
A (...) free-flowering yellow selection (...) is H. x intermedia 'Ripe Corn'. The only downside is its habit of hanging onto old leaves as the flowers open. This trait occurs in some other cultivars and is usually frowned upon by growers (...) a mild autumn followed by a sudden frost can make more leaves hang on to branches. Fortunately, as with H. x intermedia 'Ripe Corn', older plants often grow out of the habit.

An article entitled "Ranking the Scents and Sights of Hamamelis" from the February 25, 2011 posting in Swarthmore College's Scott Arboretum Garden Seeds blog also includes a chart "Ranking Leaf Retention and Fragrance of Hamamelis."

Date 2017-05-06
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fragrant flowers, Hamamelis

I visited the Washington Park Arboretum in January and admired the blooming Hamamelis. There was strong fragrance in the air, but we were unable to tell which tree was the most fragrant. Can you tell me which variety is most fragrant of the ones in the Arboretum?

Also, I have read that Hamamelis virginiana is very fragrant but I don't know if it does well here in the Northwest.


Scent can be a subjective matter, but the local group Great Plant Picks does have an evaluation of various Hamamelis species and cultivars, and according to their list, Hamamelis mollis is exceptionally fragrant compared to the rest.

Missouri Botanical Garden agrees with this assessment, stating that Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis and its cultivars) is the most fragrant species.

About the scent of Hamamelis virginiana, Chris Lane's book Witch Hazels (Timber Press, 2005) only says "sweet scent." In his book, Winter-flowering Shrubs, Michael Buffin rates the scent of various witch hazels as follows:

  • H. mollis: highly scented
  • H. x intermedia: varies; 'Pallida' has most scent; 'Aphrodite' slightly scented; 'Allgold' is strong but slightly musky; 'Arnold Promise' has strong scent; 'Barmstedt Gold' is very slightly scented; 'Dishi' is highly scented; 'Diane' nearly scentless; 'Hiltingbury' weakly scented; 'Jelena' moderate; 'Moonlight' strong, sweet; 'Orange Peel' reasonably good scent; 'Sunburst' lacks scent; 'Vesna' very sweet; 'Westerdale' moderate; 'Winter Beauty' scentless.
  • H. japonica: sweet but faint
  • H. vernalis: musky
  • H. virginiana: slightly scented

Hamamelis virginiana is more commonly grown for providing astringent, or as commercial rootstock than as a garden plant. It is native to eastern North America, though it will also grow here in the Northwest. It has a habit of holding onto its dead leaves.

Here is another article which discusses fragrance in Hamamelis, from Swarthmore College's Scott Arboretum blog (posted 2/25/2011). the author says: "Getting my top ranking was H. mollis 'Wisley Supreme' and 'Early Bright' which do hold some leaves but have fantastic fragrance."

As an example of the subjectivity of smell, see the following from Val Easton's Seattle Times column:
"Q: I have purchased a Hamamelis virginiana and I don't think it is anything like (the fragrant plant) you have written about. Will you let me know exactly which witch hazel has great fragrance and blooms in January/February?
A: The liniment witch hazel is made from the bark of Hamamelis virginiana, but that's your plant's main claim to fame. The Chinese witch hazels (Hamamelis mollis), and plants crossed with them, are supremely fragrant and bloom in winter (H. virginiana blooms in autumn and its flowers are so small they're often lost beneath the leaves). Some of the earliest-blooming witch hazels are Hamamelis x intermedia, which have the Chinese witch hazels as one of their parents; 'Pallida' blooms earliest in late January or February; 'Diane' has dark red flowers, and 'Arnold's Promise' has large, bright yellow flowers a little later in the winter. All are deliciously fragrant."

Date 2017-03-29
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Hamamelis, Botanical nomenclature

Where does witch-hazel get its common and botanical names? Is it related to hazel?


You ask a great question, and the answer is confusing. The scientific (botanical) name, Hamamelis comes from the Greek words for 'together with' (hama) and 'fruit' (melis), according to A Manual of Plant Names, 2nd revised edition, by C. Chicheley Plowden (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1970), and it is so called because "the flowers and the fruit are on the tree at the same time." Or it may be the Greek for "a plant with a pear-shaped fruit, possibly the medlar," according to William T. Stearn in his Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners (Cassell, 1992). Or perhaps 'melis' refers to melon, as this page from the Holden Arboretum website contends:
"The name Hamamelis is from the Greek hama (together with) and melon (apple or fruit) referring to the fact that the common witch-hazel flowers when the fruit is ripe in fall."

Whether 'melis' refers to fruit, pear-shaped fruit, or melon is not elucidated by An English-Classical Dictionary for the Use of Taxonomists (compiled by Robert S. Woods; Pomona College, 1966), which lists 'carpos' for fruit, 'apioides' for pear-shaped, and 'melopepon' for melon (but meaning apple-shaped, or apple-gourd). The fruit of the witch-hazel is fairly inconspicuous and doesn't resemble apples, pears, or melons, but one could make a case for its resemblance to medlar.

About the common name, Holden Arboretum says, "Witch is a corruption of wice, Old English for lively or to bend. In Great Britain, a divining rod in the hands of a dowser would become 'lively' when it came near an underground water source, pointing to the spot to dig a well. While the 'witch-hazel tree' that these divining rods were cut from in England was an elm, Ulmus glabra, American colonists found a suitable replacement in Hamamelis virginiana, which has since been known as a witch-hazel." Plowden's book offers an alternate spelling of the common name, 'wych.'

Hazel is Corylus, which is in the family Betulaceae, while witch-hazel is in the family Hamamelidaceae. I think the connection between witch-hazel and hazel has more to do with a certain similarity of appearance of the leaves.

Date 2017-08-15
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August 01 2017 12:36:01