Sunday, October 29, 2006

which witch hazel

This is not the witch hazel I mean to tell you about...although, we have been having some wicked winds coming out of the west...rather, I would like to point you in the direction of this sweet smelling bloom that appears just after all the leaves have fallen from the branches.

For years I have referred to this shrub as a hazelnut. That is what I was told was it's name by an oldtimer from these parts. Only recently did I discover that it is witch hazel!The leaves on the bush look very much as if they would belong to the hazel family, and the nuts that form -bear a striking resemblance to the hazel nut we all know and love...but lately.... I have been wondering why this bush is associated with a witch. Perhaps there was a mistake, and it should be which hazel instead.

I did a little reading and found out that some articles suggest that the limbs were used for divining or dowsing. Humm, and here I thought that they always used willow branches for that! I don't know anyone who dowses, so I have no way of knowing if there is any truth to this theroy.

I also read that witch hazel grows in the shade, and if exposed to full sun it dies off quickly. Winter bloom, or snapping hazel are also common names for this bush. The snapping refers to the way the bush spreads it seeds. When they are ripe, the seed capsules burst open and can shoot the seed as far as 20 feet. I've never seen my bush shoot its seeds, the red squirrel usually eats them all.

So, as I wonder what's in a name, I will let witch hazel cast a spell on me while I watch the pretty yellow ribbons of the blooms flitter and flutter with the wind....the last blooms of the season...

5 comments:

Leslie Shelor said...

I don't know if this grows here or not; I'll have to keep my eyes open!

Anonymous said...

I always heard that it was called "witch" hazel because it blooms in the fall, very late. (Non-conforming bloom time equals evil plant, sort of like being left-handed equals Satan's vessel?) Whatever, it's pretty!

Karen said...

I just bought one! Although the nursery called it corkscrew hazel. (heaven forbid the witches!)

Shade, you say? The tag on ours said 'sun'. I hope it's in the right place.

Karen

Judith said...

I left a beautiful witch hazel behind at my old house. I'm waiting for the one I planted here to be happy and flower. There are some 'wild' ones in the woods (hazelnut, I wonder?). We have had wicked winds too. Love your witch on the broom.

David Harmon said...

According to my Websters, the "witch" part is derived from Middle English wychm also found in "wych-elm". It may well refer to the seasonality....

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