Species of the Month, 01/14: Ozark Witch Hazel

Note: With this post, we kick off a new "Species of the Month" series, written by Park Ecologist Peter VanLinn III. It's one of several 2014 initiatives meant to share knowledge we have about the Park with those who love it.

Are you longing for even the slightest hint of spring during these cold winter months? Fear not: Forest Park Forever’s “Species of the Month” has your cure.

This month, FPF is featuring the Ozark witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), which is the earliest blooming species in Missouri. It blooms for up to four weeks, as early as January or as late as April. Keep your eyes peeled for this speckle of bright yellow with hints of red and orange in an otherwise white and brown backdrop during the winter.

Park Locations: Visitors to Forest Park can find Ozark witch hazel in Kennedy Woods (on the southwest part of the Park) and Steinberg Prairie (on the eastern side).

Scientific Name: Hamamelis vernalis
Common Name: Ozark witch hazel
Plant Type: Deciduous Shrub
Species Family: Hamamelidaceae


  • Leaves: Simple, Alternate, 2-5 inches long, inverted egg to oval shape, tip blunt or rounded, base wedge-shaped to rounded and uneven, edges wavy to almost lobed above the middle, dark green above, paler green below, veins prominent on underside
  • Bark: Tight, not peeling, gray to brown, often with gray blotches, pores narrow, cream-colored.
  • Flowers: Clustered or Solitary, fragrant, 4 petals of yellow to dark red, narrow ribbon or strap-like.
  • Fruits: Sept.-Oct.; a hard woody elliptical capsule ½ in. long, splitting down a 2-parted tip ending in 4 sharp, curved points. Capsule “pops” open sending seeds up to 30 feet.
  • Seeds: Large, hard, black, 1 or 2 per capsule

Summer Leaf: Medium green
Fall Leaf: Quality shades of yellow
Bloom Color: Yellow with red inner calyx, sometimes tinged with orange
Bloom Time: January – April
Fruit Color: Greenish seed capsules, mature to light brown

Height: 6' – 10'
Spread: 8' – 15'
Exposure: Full to partial
Moisture: Medium
Soil & Climate: Average, medium, well-drained

Growth Rate: Medium / slow    
Hardiness Zone:    4 to 8    
Attributes and Features: It typically grows 15-20’ tall with a similar spread in cultivation, but can reach 30’ tall in its native habitat in the southern Appalachians. Stem-hugging clusters of fragrant bright yellow flowers, each with four crinkly, ribbon-shaped petals, appear along the branches from October to December, usually after leaf drop but sometimes at the time of fall color. Flowers may be tinged with orange and/or red.

Ecosystem connections: Native Range is the southern and central United States. Deer forage the shoots and leaves. Beaver, squirrels and rabbits can eat the bark. Seeds and flowers are consumed by turkey and grouse.

Culture: Ozark witch hazel is easily grown in average, medium, or well-drained soil and can tolerate heavy clays. It tolerates partial shade to full sun, but flowering is best in full sun. Moist, acidic, organically rich soils are of preference. Removing suckers promptly can prevent colonial spread. Prune in spring after flowering to control shape and size.

Habitat and conservation: Occurs in gravel and rocky dry streambeds, at the base of rocky slopes and along streams, and rarely on wooded hillsides in rocky draws. Also widely cultivated, in part for its fragrant, frilly, stem-hugging flowers with an extremely early (January to February-March) and lengthy (up to 4 weeks) bloom period which sometimes occurs when snow is still on the ground. This species has long been used as a source for making witch hazel extract, used in shaving lotions and ointments for treating bruises sprains and inflammations.

Thanks for your interest in this first Species of the Month post; plant profile information owes a debt to the websites of the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Missouri Department of Conservation.