After the changing colours of autumn and leaf fall and the gradual development and opening of flower buds the young witch hazel I have been watching for Lucy’s tree-following meme may not merit much of a glance for several months. The leaves very quickly followed on from the flowers, tight leaf buds opening fully within the space of this last month and displaying their bright green ovoid leaves which appear almost ridged with the veining on them.
Measuring the height of the tree today showed it to be 33″ or 84cms, so it has gained 3″ or 8cms since it was measured in October, all of 7 months ago, quite a sizeable gain for a slow-growing tree. A brief inspection for wildlife proved negative and thus there is little else to report.
However, looking at the remains of the flowers reminded me that last month we wondered if witch hazels produced seed so I made it my business to find out. It seems that witch hazels are potentially self pollinating but are generally pollinated by insects. The witch hazel’s genus name ‘Hamamelis’ means ‘together with fruit’, referring to the fact that the ‘fruit’ or seed does not form till about eight months after flowering, at the same time as the following year’s flowers are beginning to form.
The fruit is a two part capsule about 0.4 inches (1cm) across, containing a single glossy black seed in each part; this capsule splits explosively at maturity and can send the seed as much as 33 feet (10 metres) and the ejected seeds tend to remain dormant for two years prior to germination. I shall be observing my H vernalis ‘Amethyst’ closely to for the formation of seed capsules later in the year, although I know from my other witch hazels that only a few flowers seem to produce seed – not that I have ever seen the seed but the evidence of seed capsules is there. You may be able to make out the two parts of the empty seed capsule on these two examples from H ‘Arnold Promise’, coincidentally both inhabited when the photographs were taken!
Are there any witch hazel seedlings in my garden? Well, if the seeds are dispersed up to 33 feet away from the parent plant then I haven’t got a clue – and if there were they are likely to be mistaken for Corylus avellana, the ordinary native hazel tree, and pulled up…