(479) 750-2620 info@bgozarks.org

What's In Bloom: Witch Hazel

February 2023

The Ozark witch hazel, Hamanelis vernalis, got its name because its limbs were used by water witches in divining water wells. Dowsers, water witches or, water wigglers used forked branches cut from the Ozark witch hazel to locate underground water vessels.

The Ozark or vernal witch hazel is a native, deciduous large shrub or small tree found along water courses throughout the Ozarks and Ouachitas. It grows about 15 feet tall and wide with branches arising near ground level from a short trunk. The coarse-textured leaves are 4 to 5 inches long.

The fragrant, inch-wide yellow or mahogany colored flowers appear in January and throughout February, which are the coldest days of winter. The petals are strap shaped and open on warm days, closing at night and on cold days.

Flowers are followed by a half-inch long woody capsule containing three to five shiny black seeds. As these capsules dry, the seed are explosively expelled up to 30 feet from the original tree.

The effectiveness of water witching elicits strong opinions. The scientific community, the National Ground Water Association and the U.S. Geological Survey all consider dowsing useless in finding water. Dowsers claim amazing success approaching 99 percent. For myself, I’ll keep an open mind.

You will find some very nice specimens of Ozark witch hazel in the Native Garden at BGO. I expect them to be in continuous bloom by the end of February.

Berni Kurz, Director of Horticulture