Saturday, 5 January 2013


As I sat down to write this blog I realised that I didn't have the foggiest idea of how Witch-hazels got their name. I suspected that it had nothing to do with witches, and in this I was right: it appears that "witch" as used here comes from the Old English wican - to go away. This still left me puzzled but perhaps it refers to a preparation made from the bark: it makes bruises go away. There is an alternative possibility: the word "wice" in Old English means pliant or bendable and, like our own native hazel, Witch-hazels could be used to weave "wicker" baskets. So, as I sat down to write this blog I realised that I didn't know how Witch-hazels got their name...and I still don't know!

Hamamelis mollis

I grow the Chinese Hamamelis mollis and it seems happy, having grown steadily since being planted four years ago. I have also added the rusty-flowered hybrid Hamamelis x intermedia "Aphrodite", the parents of which are H. mollis and a Japanese species, Hamamelis japonica. Witch-hazels are not found in Europe and are not at all related to our own native hazel (photographed in Byfield Pocket Park last spring) but their foliage and habit are broadly similar.

Hamamelis x intermedia

Both my Witch-hazels are in flower now and have a spicy fragrance, presumably to attract insects but I have yet to note any visitors. In fact it seems that, even in the wild, insect pollination is not commonly observed. The rarely-grown North American species, Hamamelis virginiana, flowers in late autumn and it has been reasonably postulated that all Witch-hazels flower in these chillier months to avoid competition for pollinating insects. I have to admit that if Hamamelis species grew in mid-summer I wouldn't bother with them but as I look out of my window now their appearance pleases me. My specimens also have glorious autumn foliage of crimson-orange - although they were a disappointment this last season. 

Hazel, Corylus avellana in Byfield Pocket Park

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony. I agree that witch-hazels are lovely this time of year. Mine is a bright yellow glow in the garden at the moment. Interesting about the name.