The witch hazels
Hamamelis are medium-sized shrubs that normally do not exceed 5-6 meters in height; most species are native to North America, with two species instead of Asia; the particularity that unites all the species, apart from hamamelis virginiana, is the time of flowering: the hamamelis bloom in full winter, with the plants still completely devoid of leaves; the flowers therefore stand out on the bare wood, and often seem almost fake, since they bloom even in intense cold or snow and adverse weather conditions. Hamamelis virginiana instead produces its flowers in autumn; the name of the species is given precisely by the behavior of Hamamelis virginiana: hamamelis means "together with the fruits"; this species in fact produces the flowers when the fruits of the previous year are ripe on the plant. Generally the hamamelis they produce wide shrubs, with a multiple stem, globose and with a rather disordered, not regular crown; the leaves are ample, oval, dark green, crossed by showy veins in relief. The flowers bloom without petiole, therefore directly from the wood, and consist of some dark-colored bracts, subtending the petals from the flower, thin, almost linear, and with a wrinkled appearance; the end result is a sort of disordered lemon-yellow pompom. There are varieties and species with dark, orange, pink or purple flowers.
The witch hazel speciesHamamelis virginiana
This species is native to North America; it has large obovate, deciduous leaves; the flowering begins when the plant is still full of leaves, and continues until late autumn, when only the new flowers and the fruits of the previous year remain on the plant, ie woody capsules containing the seeds. A decidedly rustic shrub, which does not fear the cold, even when the frost falls below -10 ° C.
Another species native to North America, fairly small in size, is among the species most easily found in Italian gardens and nurseries; the leaves are oval, with a rough appearance, dark green in color, usually remaining on the plant for a long time, even in the first winter months. They produce the typical witch hazel flowers, but dark in color, even orange, starting from January until spring; the flowers are very fragrant, and the flowering is very prolonged. Rustic shrub, it does not require great care or special care.
Little-known and uncommon species, in nature these witch hazels are present in the area surrounding the Mississippi River; the particularity that distinguishes them from the other hamamelis is fundamentally to be found in the color of the flowers, which are often red or pink, with elongated petals. These shrubs are quite rustic, but they don't like intense frosts; they are difficult to find in the nursery in Italy. The foliage is large, oval in shape, and has the characteristic incised veins, which give the leaves a rough appearance.
Species widespread in nature in Japan, this witch hazel is rustic and resistant, with deciduous foliage, dark green. The flowers are delicately scented, and bloom in full winter, until spring; the corolla is dark red, almost brown, and the petals are golden yellow; the flowers bloom in bunches, on the bare wood. Plant difficult to find in nurseries, in fact this hamamelis is widely used in horticultural hybrids, and therefore it is easy to find varieties of witch hazel that have H. japonica among the ancestors. The leaves in autumn become red or orange before falling.
Hamamelis widespread in nature in China; it has considerable dimensions, as it can reach 6-8 meters in height, developing like a small tree; the leaves are covered with a thin hair, which makes them soft to the touch. The flowers are orange, and bloom in full winter, they are lightly scented.
In the nursery in Italy we find only rustic hamamelis species, and generally they are hybrids, which go by the name of hamamelis x intermedia; these are hybrids of the species listed above, and may have yellow, orange, pink or red flowers. Typically only winter flowering species and varieties can be found, as this characteristic is the one that most distinguishes these plants. These large shrubs produce rhizomatous roots, therefore in order to develop well they need a soft and deep soil, which does not prevent the roots from developing at their best; they do not like heavy and clayey soils, and need a slightly acid substrate, obtained by mixing the soil for acidophilic plants, or peat, with the garden soil. They are vigorous and rustic plants, which after a couple of years after planting generally do not require much care; as soon as they are placed in our garden, they will have to be watered regularly, but only when the ground is well dry. In spring and autumn we fertilize the soil around the plant, with a slow-release granular fertilizer, which will be lightly buried. After flowering, in early spring, it is advisable to prune the tips of the branches, to favor a denser and more compact development, and to avoid that, with the passing of the years, our hamamelis tends to empty itself in the lower part. Most species, rather than developing as a single shrub, tend over time to produce numerous basal shoots, spreading out to form a sort of thicket; to avoid this behavior it is advisable, in spring or autumn, to remove the suckers, before they develop too much.
They prefer sunny or semi-shady locations; the presence of many hours of direct sunlight favors a more abundant flowering.
Propagate the Hamamelis
As mentioned before, most of the hamamelis in the nursery are hybrids, which is why, if we propagate them using the seeds, we will not be sure of the result obtained; so if we want to propagate a hamamelis with flowers of a particular color, it will be advisable to avoid sowing; if instead we have in the garden a witch hazel with typical golden yellow flowers, then we can, in spring, use its seeds to produce new specimens; they are also sown outdoors, when the night temperatures are above 7-10 ° C, trying to keep the soil fairly wet.
If, on the other hand, we want to propagate a hamamelis with very colorful flowers or a particularly intense perfume, we can use the cutting method, to be practiced in late spring or late summer, using the apex of the branches, to which we will remove the leaves in the lower part; the hamamelis cuttings generally tend to develop quite quickly and with a good percentage of successes, it will not therefore be necessary to produce a large number. The hamamelis roots are rhizomes, for this reason, if our hamamelis is becoming too large in width, in autumn we can uproot the pande of roots, and divide it, so as to create new shrubs.
Witch hazel - Hamamelis: The witch hazel in herbal medicine
Generally most of us have heard of the witch hazel, but not as an ornamental plant; extracts of hamamelis bark (especially Hamamelis virginiana) are in fact used in skin care products, from detergents to moisturizers. Native Americans already used the decoction of witch hazel bark in their medicine, as it was very useful to stop bleeding and promote wound healing. In fact, the witch hazel bark contains tannins, mucilage, flavonoids and other active ingredients, which manifest a strongly astringent, hemostatic, vasoconstrictor and antiseptic effect. The witch hazel is then used to promote the improvement of red or inflamed skin, even when it comes to the delicate epidermis of children; but hamamelis is also used in the case of excoriations, hemorrhoids, cellulite, couperose.
Witch hazel is a very interesting tree with many virtues. Unfortunately in our country they are not widespread and it is ver