Hammamelis Gronov. ex L.
Witch-hazel (Hamamelis, pronounced /ˌhæməˈmiːlɪs/) is a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelidaceae, with three species in North America (H. ovalis, H. virginiana and H. vernalis), and one each in Japan (H. japonica) and China (H. mollis). The North American species are rarely called winterbloom.
The witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 3–8 m tall, rarely to 12 m tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, oval, 4–16 cm long and 3–11 cm broad, with a smooth or wavy margin. The horticultural name means "together with fruit"; its fruit, flowers, and next year's leaf buds all appear on the branch simultaneously, a rarity among trees. H. virginiana flowers in the fall of the year. The flowers of the other species are produced on the leafless stems in winter. Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals 1–2 cm long, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule 1 cm long, containing a single 5 mm glossy black seed in each of the two parts; the capsule splits explosively at maturity in the autumn about 8 months after flowering, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 10 m, thus another alternative name "Snapping Hazel".
The name Witch in witch-hazel has its origins in Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning "pliant" or "bendable". "Witch hazel" was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm, Ulmus glabra; American colonists simply extended the familiar name to the new shrub. The use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England, may also have, by folk etymology, influenced the "witch" part of the name.
The Persian Ironwood, a closely related tree formerly treated as Hamamelis persica, is now given a genus of its own, as Parrotia persica, as it differs in the flowers not having petals. Other closely allied genera are Parrotiopsis, Fothergilla and Sycopsis (see under Hamamelidaceae). Witch-hazels are not closely related to the true Corylus hazels, though they have a few superficially similar characteristics which may cause one to believe that they are.
Cultivation and uses
They are popular ornamental plants, grown for their clusters of rich yellow to orange-red flowers which begin to expand in the autumn as or slightly before the leaves fall, and continue throughout the winter.
The bark and leaves are astringent; the extract, also referred to as witch hazel, is used medicinally. Extracts from its bark and leaves are used in aftershave lotions and lotions for treating bruises and insect bites. Witch-hazel helps to shrink and contract blood vessels back to normal size, hence its use as the active ingredient in many hemorrhoid medications. It is also a common treatment for postnatal tearing of the perineum. The seeds contain a quantity of oil and are edible. It is also used in treating acne.
Hamamelis species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Feathered Thorn.
1. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan.
Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, ISBN 0-8117-2092, Charles Fergus, Stackpole Books, (2002), pp 156–9.
Source: Wikipedia, Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License