Fall Color in New Hampshire

We’re back from the mountains! The leaves were not quite peak color in higher elevations but still breathtaking to us. On our return, we found very little color on the Seacoast of New Hampshire.

However, there was one understory tree that we enjoy from our window each fall that greeted our homecoming with bright yellow leaves. It’s the native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that grows along our woodline. Step just inside the woods and there’s a riot of witch hazel turning yellow as far as one can see.

The leaves first begin to yellow from the outside edge in.

They eventually turn a lemony yellow before slowly turning brown from the edge again. The leaves soon fall but the tree still presents us with another colorful performance.

With most deciduous trees bare, the witch hazel’s yellow tassels brighten the fall landscape. This is the only tree in North America to have flowers, ripe fruit, and next year’s leaf buds on its branches at the same time. While the blooms are open, last year’s seedpods reach maturity and loudly eject one or two tiny black seeds per pod 30-feet or more. If left undisturbed, the seeds will germinate in two years.On some branches, I can see year old pods open and empty… however every now and again, I spot a seed that didn’t eject last year. I wonder if these old seeds are still viable.

It’s time of year for Halloween witches and goblins so you might think the holiday has some connection with the witch hazel tree that blooms at the same time… but not. The root of the word witch comes from an old English word, wice, meaning pliant or bendable. As lore goes, this tree produces the branches and twigs for divining rods that can locate underground water sources.

Oh what an interesting and often overlooked native tree for the landscape! Do consider this native one or one of the many cultivars if you are looking for a fall blooming woody plant to enhance your property.

 

Which one did I buy?

Toward the end of the growing season, I picked up a witch hazel plant on a mark down sale at a local nursery. The plant was labeled Hamamelis virginiana, the common witch hazel that blooms in late fall in eastern North America. This understory native tree flowers about mid-fall and may continue through December when no other flowers are in the landscape.

Several of these small trees grow along the wood line across the street and I love seeing the splash of color beneath the conifers as both the leaves and the flower turn a golden yellow. It’s a pretty smart plant to bloom when there isn’t any competition for pollination by insects. Bees are buzzing late in the season around these trees… and the fragrance? It can be intoxicating on a fall day.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

My tiny witch hazel, planted late in the season, has just become visible after a big snow melt and it is beginning to bloom during the final days of February. I think the label was correct. It probably is a Hamamelis virginiana that is blooming late the first year. But could it be mislabeled?  There are some witch hazels that bloom in February, the Vernal witch hazel and hybrids…. one of which I grew in Virginia, Hamamelis vernalis, Diane’ with a bright red and beautiful bloom.

Secretly, I’m hoping the witch hazel is mislabeled and I have an early spring blooming Vernal witch hazel. Fingers crossed….but just maybe, someone who knows lots more than I do, can verify this plant’s identity.

witch hazel