Hamamelis virginiana, known as common witch hazel, is a fall-blooming, deciduous shrub or small tree that is native to woodlands, forest margins and stream banks in eastern North America, from Quebec to Florida to Texas and central US. It typically grows 15-20’ tall with a similar spread in cultivation, but can reach 30’ tall in its native habitat. Stem-hugging clusters of fragrant bright yellow flowers, each with four crinkly, ribbon-shaped petals, appear along the branches from October to December, usually after leaf drop but sometimes at the time of fall color. Fertilized flowers will form fruit over a long period extending through winter and into the following growing season. Fruits are greenish seed capsules that become woody with age and mature to light brown. Each seed capsule splits open in fall of the following year, exploding the 1-2 black seeds within for up to 30 feet. Oval to obovate, medium to dark green leaves (to 6” long) with dentate to wavy margins turn quality shades of yellow in fall. Plants of this species are usually the last native flowering shrubs to bloom each year.
The genus name comes from the Greek words hama meaning at same time and melon, meaning apple or fruit in reference to the occurrence of both fruit and flowers at the same time on this shrub (particularly in the case of fall flowering members of the genus).
Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best flowering in full sun. Prefers moist, acidic, organically rich soils. Tolerates heavy clay soils. Promptly remove suckers to prevent colonial spread. Prune in early spring if necessary.
There are no serious insect or disease problems. Occasionally, insect galls (from small wasps) appear on the foliage. Japanese beetles may chew on the leaves in some areas.