Native to forests and thickets in southeastern and southwestern China, this deciduous shrub or small tree is a member of the witch hazel family, Hamamelidaceae, that also includes loropetalum, fothergill, and winter hazel. It can grow over 20′ tall but is usually 10-15″ and has a rounded habit. The 3-6″ long leaves are ovate to obovate, toothed, and have soft hairs on the underside. They are medium to dark green until fall when they turn yellow to orange. Clusters of flowers appear in the leaf axil in late winter to early spring before the leaves emerge. The flowers consists of 4, strap-shaped yellow petals with a red-brown calyx and are more fragrant than the flowers of other witch hazels. 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. Numerous cultivars are available that vary most significantly in flower color and size, and in plant size and habit. Notably, H. mollis is one of the two parents of  H. × intermedia with H. japonica. Mollis, is the Latin word meaning soft and may refer to soft hairs on the leaves.

Type: Flowering deciduous shrub or small tree

Outstanding Feature: Winter fragrant flowers (most fragrant witch hazel)

Form: Oval to rounded

Growth Rate: Slow

Bloom: Clusters of fragrant yellow flowers with 4 strap-shaped petals in late winter to early spring

Size: 10-16′ H x 10-20′ W

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Average, consistently moist, well-drained, acidic

Hardiness: Zones 6 (5 with protection) to 8 (least hardy witch hazel)

Care: Prune immediately after flowering to maintain shape and/or size; remove suckers as they appear to prevent spreading

Pests and Diseases: None of significance

Propagation: Layering in spring, softwood cuttings in spring, grafting in late winter, chip budding in late summer, seed

Outstanding Selections:

‘Brevipetala’ (deep ochre-yellow flowers; 9-12′ tall)

‘Coombe Wood’ (more spreading than species)

‘Early Bright” (earliest bloom time)

‘Jermyns Gold’ (golden yellow flowers)

 ‘Pallida’ (sulfur yellow flowers, good fall color)

‘Sweet Sunshine’ (golden yellow flowers)

‘Wisley Supreme’ (pale yellow flowers with red tinged petal bases)

Photo Credit: Bunjii2, Wikimedia Commons

By Karen