Together with fruit – Witchhazels

posted in: Gardening | 13
Witch hazel Hamamelis palida in winter with exploding seeds

There are not many trees or shrubs around that can claim to have next year’s leaf buds and last years fruit and last years leaves on the same plant at the same time.  Hence the name  Hamamelis and it literally means “together with fruit”

Beneath the dying embers new life is emerging from these bare stems. This is my Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ and its my favourite of all the Hamamelis I grow here in my Perthshire garden.  It reminds me of my childhood gardening days as my granddad grew this one in his garden too.  It’s one of the true glories of my Scottish winter garden with its frost resistant yellow flowers along with its spicy scent .

There is just one old leaf left this year with its lovely reddish coppery tints. The way it is wrapped around the stem looks as if it’s protecting something inside that leaf.  But the witch hazel has a surprise in store for us…………

it’s got………

exploding witch hazel seeds!

Witch hazel Hamamelis palida snapping hazel nut exploding seeds

The Hamamelis also has another name – the “Snapping hazel nut”. The witch hazel fruit is a two-part capsule about 1 cm long and it contains a single 5 mm glossy black seed in each of the two parts.

Once those seeds are ripe and the temperature and the humidity that day is just right –  they explode and shoot the small black seed up to 30 feet away from the parent plant.

How amazing is that!  

Since witch hazels need space to grow properly they can self propagate to areas well away from the parent plant and hence have a better chance of survival.  Once the seed explosion has taken place it takes a further two years before the seed will germinate………….that is if it’s not eaten by a bird or a squirrel in the meantime.

Edwin Way Teale recalls his story about the exploding seeds in his book  ‘A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm’  He brought back home some Hamamelis branches that had a few seed capsules like in the above photograph.  That night he awoke to hear strange sounds that seemed to be bouncing from his study walls.  In the morning he found the seeds lying on the ground and his only explanation was that the seeds had hit the wall during the night.  He then later discovered that Henry Thoreau the great american naturalist had also had a similar experience 100 years earlier.


Rosie Nixon
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Rosie is based in Perth, Perthshire as a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature in her own garden and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the Scottish outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at the only photographic gallery in Scotland - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh.

13 Responses

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    Thank you for visiting my blog. I am happy to find yours. I will come back. Have a nice day./Gela

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    What an interesting post. Your grandfather would be proud of what you've written about the witchhazel.


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    I didn't have to defoliate my 'Pallida' this year either. Odd. I did have to pick the leaves off of my 'Ruby Glo' which I have never had to do before.
    Brilliant post – as always.

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    Hello Rosie,

    How cool that they 'shoot' their seeds. The more I hear about Witch Hazel, the more I really like it. But, I don't think it can grow here in the desert, so I will enjoy yours instead.

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    Mary Anne

    30 feet! Wouldn't that be cool to be standing next to it (but not in its path) when the seeds are finally ripe!

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    HI Rosie: Liza and Johns Garden came for another enjoyable visit. Glad you enjoyed our Blue Birds.
    Working on some more bird posts and building a few albums that I will be posting soon. Will be back to visit again. You have a very nice blog.

    Enjoy Your Day,

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    I've never grown witch hazel, but I've seen it in bloom, and it's such a lovely harbinger of spring.

    I love that it shoots its seeds. Just last week in a discussion with a fellow gardener & friend, he said something to the effect of plants being quite busy and physically active and moving dramatically within their realms, just on a different time scale than ours, so that we don't witness most of it. I'd been blathering about how peaceful and still I find my plant friends. I'll have to tell him about the seed-shooter. 😉

    Great post!

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    Hi leavesnbloom, i am new here and just followed your link from Autumn Belle's. I like your photos and because i am from the tropics i will be enjoying your Scotland gardens and plants. I will return later for your photography instructions…thanks.

    Maybe you would try looking at my all-year-round photos, especially when you are in winter. hehe., a diversion from snow!

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    Thankyou everyone for all your comments. I really treasure my witchhazels – I see hardly a witchhazel in gardens around here – they are quite expensive due to normally being grafted stock but they give such pleasure during the dreakest days of winter.

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    Your blog is very creative… clean and unique. I can't wait to stop back again.
    Happy Bloom Day!

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    Jeri Landers

    Thanks for visiting my Hollow, here in Tennessee. I can see that I am going to love your site, so many goodies to digest. I plan to visit your "wee" plot in Scotland often! Jeri

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