Monday, October 29, 2012

Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana is a common shrub or small tree on the forested slopes of the dune country in Indiana. It also occurs away from the dunes region, often on ravine slopes. The leaves are wavy-margined and noticeably asymmetrical. Interestingly, the flowers emerge in autumn, and in a mild year can sometimes be observed well into December. Watch for the occasional pink-flowered forma rubescens.

In a journal entry dated September 21, 1859, Henry David Thoreau wrote, "Heard in the night a snapping sound, and the fall of some small body on the floor from time to time. In the morning I found it was produced by the witch hazelnuts on my desk springing open and casting their seeds quite across my chamber, hard and stony as these nuts were. For several days they are shooting their shining black seeds about my chamber."

In a delightful book entitled "Of Woods and Other Things," the inimitable Emma Pitcher wrote, "Everything else in the woods is going to sleep in the frosts and cold of October and November when witch hazel is in full blossom. We found lingering petals on a Christmas Day stroll."
 In earlier times, a forked branch of witch-hazel was sometimes used as a “divining rod” for “water witching,” which was believed to locate good sites for digging wells.
Photographed on October 31, 2012 in Marshall County, Indiana.

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