Marcescent phenomenon explained: On some trees, leaves may fade, but still hang on

Ah, finally March has arrived. Spring is coming. Did you know we have a shrub that is flowering now? You know if you are close to this shrub by the delightful fragrance. The small, reddish orange to yellow flowers have a slight waviness along their length and curve at their tips. Flowers will open up on relatively warm and sunny days but roll up on cold days as a survival mechanism to avoid freezing damage.

Witchhazels, or vernal Witchhazels are shrubs that flower late winter and very early spring. The botanical name is Hamamelis vernalis. Try pronouncing that name real fast. Sounds like someone chewing bubble gum. The Genus or first part Hamamelis translates from the Greek as “hooked fruit”, referring to the curling backward of the fruit capsule. The specific epithet or second word vernalis means “of spring,” referring to the winter flowering habit that heralds the coming of spring.

There are many cultivars of Witchhazels depending on what color flower you’re looking for. You may have to search among your favorite garden centers; however, you will be rewarded. Plants are typically upright spreading and rather loosely branched reaching a height of 4-12 feet, depending on variety. The flowering time tends to be late winter, usually in mid-February through March depending on the temperature and conditions of late winter and early spring.

One of the best yellow-flowered cultivars is Arnold Promise, which was developed at the Arnold Arboretum.

Another favorite is Diane or Hamamelis intermedia ‘Diane’ which has a true red flower color. The flowers are so small and dainty; you could miss them. However, the fragrance is heavenly.

Designers, landscapers, and homeowners should put them close to an entryway or high traffic area. Since Witchhazels flower anytime between mid-February through March, the small flowers can easily be missed.

Did I mention the fragrance?