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 Hamamelis virginiana    L.

Witch-hazel 


MN Status:

special concern
Federal Status:
none
CITES:
none
USFS:
none


Group:

vascular plant
Class:
Dicotyledoneae
Order:
Hamamelidales
Family:
Hamamelidaceae
Life Form:
shrub
Longevity:
perennial
Leaf Duration:
deciduous
Water Regime:
terrestrial
Soils:
loam
Light:
full shade, partial shade
Habitats:

(Mouse over a habitat for definition)


Best time to see:

  Foliage   Flower   Fruit  
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Hamamelis virginiana Hamamelis virginiana Hamamelis virginiana Hamamelis virginiana

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Map Interpretation

Map Interpretation

  Basis for Listing

Hamamelis virginiana is a fairly common forest shrub farther east, but it is quite rare in Minnesota where it reaches the northwestern periphery of its range. Extensive searches have discovered surviving plants to be clustered in only about a half dozen habitat fragments in the southeastern counties. There is concern that these fragments may not have retained the ecosystem processes that are necessary to assure the perpetuation of this species. In light of this, intensive management such as manual removal of invasive species or the creation of habitat buffers may be needed. Hamamelis virginiana was listed as a special concern species in Minnesota in 1984, however, elevating its status to threatened is currently being considered.

  Description

Hamamelis virginiana is a large shrub with multiple stems that may reach heights of 6 m (20 ft.) and diameters of 8 cm (3 in.). The branchlets are brown or gray and have stellate hairs. The bark is brown or gray-brown and rough. The leaves are simple, alternate on the stem, and deciduous. They are broadly elliptical to nearly circular in outline, 6-15 cm (2.4-5.9 in.) long and 4.5-10 cm (1.8-3.9 in.) wide, and the margins are irregularly wavy. The flowers are bisexual, 4-merous, and sessile in axillary clusters. The petals are yellow, ribbon like, and 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8 in.) long. The fruit is a woody capsule, 1-1.4 cm (0.4-0.6 in.) long that matures in autumn one year after pollination. It opens explosively and disperses seeds forcibly (Smith 2008).

  Habitat

Hamamelis virginiana occurs in the understory of dry to moist deciduous forests, typically with Quercus spp. (oaks), Acer saccharum (sugar maple), or Tilia americana (basswood). It easily survives and reproduces in a closed-canopy forest, but growth and flowering are reportedly increased under small canopy gaps (Hicks and Hustin 1989). These habitats are usually integral parts of large, complex forest systems that posses considerable topographic relief and varying edaphic conditions.

  Biology / Life History

Hamamelis virginiana is peculiar in that the flowers open in the autumn; usually peaking about the time the leaves are falling. This may happen after the first frost, yet flying insects are still active and manage to pollinate the flowers. Although pollination occurs in the autumn, actual fertilization does not occur until the following spring (Flint 1957), so the fruits develop during the summer, like those of most spring-pollinated species. When the fruits are ripe in the autumn, they burst open, forcibly ejecting two smooth black seeds a distance of up to 10 m (33 ft.) (Meyer 1997). Most seeds remain dormant in the soil for 18 months, germinating after two winters (Gaut and Roberts 1984).

Although the stems of H. virginiana will produce basal suckers, they all arise from a confined root crown and cannot generate new root crowns. Thus, reproduction is entirely by seed. Individual stems are reported to reach 30 years of age (De Steven 1983), but since stems can be continually replaced by basal suckers, the root system could be much older than any of the stems.

A search for H. virginiana can be conducted whenever the leaves are present from mid-May through mid-October. When the leaves have fallen, the flowers and fruits should still be present until early November.

  Conservation / Management

The main conservation consideration for H. virginiana is the full maintenance of ecosystem processes within its forest habitat, which may come into conflict with consumptive uses such as logging, livestock grazing, and residential development. For a number of reasons, livestock grazing in native forests is widely recognized as incompatible land management and is therefore not nearly as prevalent as in the past. However, logging and residential development seem to be increasing. They have the effect of directly reducing available habitat and at the same time increasing exotic species invasion. Rhamnus cathartica (common buckthorn) and Lonicera spp. (Eurasian bush honeysuckles) are perhaps the most destructive exotic shrubs in forest habitats, however there are a dozen additional species that also cause serious problems and that number is increasing almost every year.

  Conservation Efforts in Minnesota

A relatively small population of H. virginiana is known to occur in a State Park where it is protected from commercial logging and residential development. There is another cluster of records on state-owned forestland that is managed for timber production. No effort has been made to assess the conservation needs of any of these sites.

  References

De Steven, D. 1983. Reproductive consequences of insect seed predation in Hamamelis virginiana. Ecology 64:89-98.

Flint, F. F. 1957. Megasporogenesis and megagametogenesis in Hamamelis virginiana L. Virginia Journal of Science 8:185-89.

Fulling, E. H. 1953. American witch hazel: history, nomenclature and modern utilization. Economic Botany 7:359-381.

Gaut, P. C., and J. N. Roberts. 1984. Hamamelis seed germination. Plant Propagation 34:334-342.

Hicks, D. J., and D. L. Hustin. 1989. Response of Hamamelis virginiana L. to canopy gaps in a Pennsylvania oak forest. American Midland Naturalist 121:200-204.

Meyer, F. G. 1997. Hamamelis. Pages 363-365 in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, editors. Flora of North America north of Mexico. Volume 3. Oxford University Press, New York, New York.

Smith, W. R. 2008. Trees and shrubs of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 703 pp.