Avant Gardening

Plantaholics Anonymous: Vernal Witchhazel

Vernal Witchhazel is a small, horizontally spreading tree or large shrub depending on who you ask! The unusual features of the witch hazel family make it an excellent choice for adventurous gardeners. Witch hazel offers yellow and red fragrant flowers blooming at unconventional times. Most species are hardy, low-maintenance, and generally ignored by most garden pests.Hamamelis vernalis flower

Scientific Name: Hamamelis vernalis.    Common Name: Vernal or Ozark Witchhazel

Fun Fact: In 1753, Linnaeus observed leaves, flowers, and the prior year’s fruit all at once on a single native witch hazel, thus choosing hama– “at same time” and –melon “apple or fruit” for its name.

Many people know of the Common Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and appreciate its late fall bloom and shade tolerance, but for an even more unique choice – read on!

The Vernal or Ozark Witch hazel is a superior winter-flowering plant, native to the Ozark Plateau which extends from southern Missouri through northwestern Arkansas to eastern Oklahoma. It is one of the earliest shrubs to flower in spring, the flowers are typically clustered and range from yellow to orangey-red in color. Its most interesting feature – each flower has four strap-like petals that curl inward on chilly days, this is actually an adaptive mechanism to protect them from freezing. These flowers can persist for 3-4 weeks with snow on the ground and when little else is of interest in your landscape!Hamamelis vernalis flowers

In fall, the attractive oval-shaped leaves turn a golden yellow and the woody fruit capsules split in half to disperse the seeds. Another impressive spectacle, if you are lucky enough to witness it – the seeds are forced or shot-out of the seed pod to a distance of 30 feet! The seeds are happily eaten by turkeys and grouse.


Zone: 4-8

Height: 6-10’ Spread: 8-12’

Bloom Time: Late Winter-Early Spring (depending on weather)

Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Part Shade