Vernal witch-hazel has yellow and orange-red flowers with a spicy fragrance that appear In late winter or very early spring, before the leaves unfurl, lasting three to four weeks. The new foliage is an attractive bronzy-red color that matures to dark green. It turns a rich buttery yellow to golden yellow in fall. The dried leaves often persist into winter. The fruit capsules mature in September or October, then split open to expel black seeds that are attractive to birds. The plants can sucker to form colonies. This is a great specimen plant for a naturalized landscape.
Size and Form:
Vernal witch-hazel is a 6 to 10 feet high and 10 to 15 feet wide, rounded to upright shrub.
Native geographic location and habitat:
This shrub is native to Missouri, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Attracts birds & butterflies:
The seeds released in the fall are eaten by a number of species of birds.
Bark color and texture:
The bark is gray to gray-brown and relatively smooth. The younger twigs have velvety hairs.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:
The simple, alternate leaves are oval with broadly toothed margins and are 2 to 5 inches long. The new leaves emerge with a bronze or red cast, then turn to a medium green. The fall color is a rich buttery yellow to golden yellow.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size:
Yellow, orange or red flowers with 4 strap-like petals appear in late winter to very early spring and are very fragrant.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:
The fruit is a dry capsule and is not ornamentally important.
Vernal witch-hazel does best in full sun to part shade. It is tolerant of moist soil but prefers well-drained, rich organic soils. Avoid planting it in dry conditions. In part shade it will have a more open habit than in full sun. It should be pruned in late winter to remove dead stems and to keep its shape. The cut stems can be forced to bloom indoors.
List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:
This plant has no serious problems, but occasionally, powdery mildew can occur. It will tolerate poorly drained clay soil. It is more tolerant of high pH (alkaline) soil than the Chicago native, Common witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). It is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.
Autumn Embers vernal witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis ‘Autumn Embers’):
A cultivar with an upright form that is 8 to 10 feet high and 10 feet wide. It has orange, fragrant, strap-like flowers and red-purple fall color.
Red-flowered vernal witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis f. carnea):
This cultivar, as its name implies, has red flowers.
Sandra vernal witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis ‘Sandra’):
This is a large, upright cultivar reaching 10 feet high and 10 to 12 feet wide. It has yellow, fragrant flowers and orange-red to plum-red fall color.