Thursday, February 12, 2015

Witch Hazel 2015

Ozark Witch Hazel- Hamamelis vernalis
Cruising around the valley yesterday, we stopped to appreciate the flowering Ozark witch hazel in full bloom.  The upper blossoms were just past prime while the lower branches held freshly emerged petals.  The grove is densely clustered and its fragrance filled the air.

I read Peter Longley's entry in the Springfield Botanical Garden News, and decided to share it in its complete form with his permission.
"The genus name, Hamamelis, literally means “together with fruit” referring to the simultaneous occurrence of the flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year, in very early spring or latter winter. The seed capsule splits explosively at maturity, ejecting the seeds with great force to a distance of up to 35 feet. This is why, sometimes, witch hazels are called ‘snapping hazels.’ Although we think of the witch hazel as a winter plant, it is found all down the eastern half of North America, from Canada to Florida, so it is not winter’s cold that governs its cheerful winter blooms, but a seasonal phenomenon.

The witch is not related to the flying broomstick, and nor is the hazel related to the popular nut. Witch comes from the Middle English wiche, in turn from the old English wice, meaning pliant or bendable. Hazelnut twigs are also pliant and were commonly used in England as divining rods to find sources of water. There was a certain mystique and magic to a divining rod that some associate with those who possess magical powers, and it is more likely that the witch on the broomstick, got her name from the water diviner and those mysterious pliable hazel twigs. American colonists on finding that the Hamamelis twigs had the same pliable use for water divining along the Eastern seaboard of the Americas, called the Hamamelis twigs ‘Witch Hazel.’ It was also learned that the Hamamelis was used by Native Americans for many medicinal purposes, which is why to this day we associate Witch Hazel distilled from the leaves and bark of the Hamamelis virginiana, which actually blooms in the fall, as an astringent and healing balm."
Witch hazel is still used as a herbal medicine, mainly externally on rashes, sores, bruises, and swelling. For the rest of us, the blossoms are a sign that spring will soon heal the natural bruises of winter.

* From the Springfield Botanical Garden News. If you would like to be added to the list for direct distribution of this blog to your e-mail inbox send a note to Peter Longley, plongley@springfieldmo.gov

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