Monday, October 31, 2011

Witch of the Woods--- and her name is Hazel

Witch hazel is starting to bloom in the woods of southern Michigan, but the spider-like yellow flowers
 are easy to  miss when leaves remain.
photo by Jonathan Schechter October/2011

Frost laced the woods of Oakland County and set the stage for the season of  witch hazel.
Halloween and witches have nothing to do with this fascinating small tree that is just now
flowering, but the  name witch hazel name has mystery and myth in its history. And without
taking fun away from candy hungry gremlins and goblins that will work so hard tonight to
 lay  ground work  for dental visits and stomach pains here are the facts.

Native Americans knew this tree before the invaders with guns and axes in tall sailing ships
landed on the eastern shore and carved the land to suit their wants and needs. 
In colonial America even as the British exchanged shots with the rebellious colonists, the
shrub's flexible forked branches was being used as "witching stick" by the dousers: folks who
 held the  forked branches in hand waiting for the tip to point to hidden waters.   Bad news for Halloween fans:
The word witch in witch hazel originates from the old English word for pliable branches "wych" 
 and has nothing to do with a lady in black straddling an airborne broom.

Your grandmother and probably your mom (and maybe you)  used this plant for a wide array
of medical ailments. It is found in a liquid form in almost all drug stores today and sold as an astringent, and for treaments of irritations, pain and itching, skin conditions and another 20 or
 30 uses!  .

Walk in an hardwood forest between now and Thanksgiving and look about: This understory
tree is rather common on our glacially sculpted landscape and in a few weeks afer all the leaves
 fall  the branches will be lined with spidery yellow blossoms.  Bring a seed rich branch inside
and you are in for a surprise. The heat of a room will make the pod 'explode' and kick the seeds
out like a mini-cannon tossing them up to ten feet away. 

The flowering of the witch hazel reminds me snow will soon lace the ground.
And that makes me smile.

photo by Jonathan Schechter  Nov 2010



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