Witch hazels, Hamamelis spp., are deciduous shrubs or small trees native to eastern North America and eastern Asia. They are in the witch hazel family, Hamamelidaceae, that also includes lorpetalum, fothergill, and winter hazel. Valued for their fragrant flowers, they bloom when little else is in flower so are especially appreciated as ornamentals. In addition, some cultivars have very attractive fall coloration.

The plants grow from 5-20′ tall, have smooth brown to gray bark, and may be erect or spreading. Clusters of flowers usually appear over a long bloom time from late winter to early spring on bare branches but one species blooms in the late fall to early winter. The flowers consist of 4 crinkled, ribbon-like petals that may be various shades of yellow, orange, or red. The petals curl up in response to cold and uncurl in warm temperatures. The fragrance of the flowers varies by species and cultivar, with some having slight or no fragrance. The alternate leaves are oval, 2-6″ long, and may have wavy or toothed margins. They are green on the topside, sometimes downy beneath, and some have attractive fall coloration. The fruit is a 2-part capsule containing 2 black glossy seeds that are explosively ejected at maturity, about 8 months after flowering.

Witch hazels like average, consistently moist, well-drained, acidic to neutral soil and flower best in full sun but tolerant some shade. They are generally healthy, require pruning only to maintain shape and size, and are propagated by seed (except cultivars and hybrids) grafting or removing suckers.

The genus name, Hamamelis, comes from the Greek words ᾰ̔́μᾰ (háma),  meaning simultaneously, and μῆλον (mēlon) meaning fruit, and refers to the fact that the plant flowers while the previous year’s fruit ripen.

Photo Credit Wikipedia

Hybrid Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia)


Hybrid witch hazel is the result of a cross between H. mollis and H. japonica. Numerous cultivars have been developed that vary most significantly in size and habit of the plant, size, color, and fragrance of the flowers, bloom time, and fall coloration of the leaves. The plants can grow up to 20′ tall and may be erect or spreading. Clusters of flowers appear in mid to late winter or early spring, before the leaves emerge, and may be yellow, orange, or red depending on the cultivar. Unlike other witch hazels, fragrance may be lacking. The leaves are 2-4″ long and some hybrids develop red-orange leaves as well as yellow in the fall. H. intermedia is a good choice for a a shrub border or woodland garden and some cultivars are suitable for use in fragrance or winter garden. Photo Credit Wikipedia

Height: 15-20; H x 8-10′ W

Bloom Color: Yellow, orange, or red depending on the cultivar

Bloom Time: Late winter to early spring

Hardiness: Zones 4-9

Japanese Witch Hazel (H. japonica)

Native to mountainous areas of Japan, Japanese witch hazel grows 10-15 ‘ tall and wide and has a rounded, spreading habit. Fragrant yellow flowers appear in globose heads before the leaves emerge in late winter to early spring. The 4″ long leaves turn yellow in the fall. Japanese witch hazel is a good choice for shrub border or specimen as well as woodland, fragrance and winter gardens. Photo Credit Wikipedia

Height: 10-15′

Flowers of Japanese witch hazel

Bloom Color: Yellow

Bloom Time: Late winter to early spring

Hardiness: Zones 5-8

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Native to forests and thickets in southeastern and southwestern China, Chinese witch hazel grows over 20′ tall but is usually 10-15″ and has a rounded habit. Clusters of yellow flowers appear in the leaf axils in late winter to early spring before the leaves emerge. The leaves are 3-6″ long and turn yellow to orange in the fall. With its outstanding fragrance, Chinese witch hazel is an excellent choice for a fragrance garden but is also useful as a specimen, for use in a shrub border, or in winter or woodland gardens. In addition, branches can be forced into bloom in winter and make lovely fresh arrangements. Photo Credit Wikipedia

Height: 10-15′

Bloom color: Yellow

Bloom Time: Late winter to early spring

Hardiness: Zones 5-8

Big-Leaf Witch Hazel (Hamamelis ovalis)

First found in 2004 in coastal Mississippi, this native witch hazed was growing in colonies that had a few plants 4-8′ tall with the majority only 1-2′. The oval leaves are 4.7-9.5″ long (2-3 times the size of other witch hazel leaves), and have toothed margins and dense fine white hairs on the undersides. From December to February, clusters of fragrant flowers appear. Each flower has a scarlet calyx and may be maroon, orange, scarlet, rose or red with yellow tips. Colonies are characterized by having one dominant form of scarlet, rose-pink, wine red, or maroon while a few other bushes in the colony show yellow with bicolored petals. Big-Leaf witch hazel is rare and difficult to find in nurseries but would be a good choice for winter, fragrance, woodland, shade, and native plant gardens. Photo Credit Wikipedia

Height: 1-8′

Bloom Color: Shades of red sometimes with yellow

Bloom Time: Winter

Hardiness: Zones 7-9

Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)

Ozark witch hazel is native to the Ozark Plateau from southern Missouri through northwestern Arkansas east to Oklahoma where it grows in moist areas and can form large colonies.  It grows up to 10′ tall and has zig zag twigs and a vase-shaped habit when young, becoming rounded with maturity. In mid to late winter before the foliage emerges, fragrant flowers appear in axillary clusters.  The flowers range in color from pale yellow to orange and  red-orange. Ozark witch hazel is a good choice for a shrub border, screen, hedge, woodland or winter garden. Flowers can be forced for the vase. 

Height: 6-10′

Bloom Color: Pale yellow to orange or orange-red

Bloom Time: Mid to late winter

Hardiness: Zones 4-8

Common Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Also called American witch hazel and beadwood, this witch hazel is native to woodland margins and stream banks in eastern North America from from Canada to Mexico and as far west as Minnesota and eastern Texas. The plant usually reaches about 15′ tall and has an irregular branching pattern and an erect or spreading habit. Clusters of fragrant yellow flowers appear from late fall to early winter, sometimes while the leaves are still on the plant. The 6″ long leaves turn an attractive yellow in the fall. Common witch hazel provides food for birds, including wild turkey, small mammals and deer. Traditionally, it has been used medicinally and is still used as an astringent. In addition, forked twigs of the plant have been used as divining rods. Common witch hazel is a good choice for a shrub border or specimen as well as for use in woodland, fragrance, winter, native plant, medicinal, bird, and wildlife gardens. Photo Credit Wikipedia

Height: 15-20′

Bloom Color: Yellow

Bloom Time: Late fall to early winter

Hardiness: Zones 3-9

By Karen