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…………
exploding witch hazel 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.