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Plant Profile: Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis)

Ozark witch hazel is a deciduous flowering shrub or small tree 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 is a member of the witch hazel family,  Hamamelidaceae, that also includes loropetalum, fothergill, and Persian ironwood.  Plants grow up to 10′ tall and have zig zag twigs and thick,  ovate to rounded leaves up to 4″ long with deeply crenate margins, conspicuous sunken veins, and a short petiole.  The leaves emerge  medium to dark green but become golden-yellow in the fall although some cultivars turn orange, red, and purple.  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,  and have four, narrow, ribbon-like petals that are 1/3″ long and roll up on cold days, roll out on warm ones.  The fruit is a 2-valved capsule that is produced in late summer and perists into winter. Ozark witch hazel provides very welcome interest in winter and is a good choice for a shrub border, screen, hedge, woodland or winter garden. Flowers can be forced for the vase.   The genus name, Hamamelis, comes from the Greek words hama meaning at the same time and melon meaning fruit and refers to the fact that the fruit and flowers appear  at the same time on some genera.  The specific epithet, vernalis, is the Latin word meaning of spring and refers to the early bloom time.

Type: Deciduous flowering shrub or small tree

Outstanding Feature:

Form: Vase-shaped in youth becoming rounded with maturity

Growth Rate: Slow

Bloom: Pale yellow to orange or orange-red fragrant flowers with 4 petals that roll up in the cold and out in the warmth, from mid to late winter

Size: 6-10′ H  8-15′ W

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Average, medium moist, well-drained, acidic; tolerates clay soil if well drained.

Hardiness: Zones 4-8

Care: Remove suckers to restrict spread; prune after flowering to control size and shape

Pests and Diseases: Generally healthy but suceptible to rots, leaf spot, powdery mildew, leaf gall aphids, leafminer, learroller, scale, weevils, and damage by caterpillars and Japanese beetles.

Propagation: Seed, rooted stem cuttings

Outstanding Selections:’Sandra’ (may have purplish new growth, larger flowers, stronger autumn coloration)

Photo Credit: Wikipedia