12 Great Witch Hazel Varieties For The All-Season Garden


Witch hazel, or Hamamelis, is perhaps best known for its medicinal properties. That said, it’s also a star of the February garden. And right now in eastern North America, the shrub’s sweet, citrusy scent is drifting across many a landscape. If you’re searching for flowers in the dead of winter, witch hazel provides a variety of solutions. 


My love affair with this early-blooming plant started early. In Delaware, where I grew up, there was a magnificent pair of witch hazels flanking the corner of Winterthur Museum’s visitor’s pavilion. In late January, their buds would swell, revealing tiny slivers of bright yellow and wine-colored flowers. And when the pair finally reached full bloom, their crisscrossed branches wove a brilliant tapestry of late winter color.

Although I never discovered the names of these stunning varieties, I later learned that witch hazel is made of up four main species, two of which are native to North America. Hamamelis virginiana blooms in late fall. And Hamamelis vernalis blooms in late winter. 


H. virginiana

The other two species, Hamamelis japonica and Hamamelis mollis, are native to Asia. Both bloom in winter.

Recently, a cross between two species has produced a fifth variety; a new hybrid called Hamamelis x intermedia. Known for its bright fall color and large flowers, this variety is slightly smaller in size and blooms anywhere from late February to March.


H. mollis


There’s so much to love about this winter-blooming plant. Most species grow to 15 to 25 feet tall; the perfect size for a garden corner. Some varieties have a loose, vase-like form while others are rounded and compact. And in the fall, the shrubs’ smooth, oval leaves turn brilliant shades of red or yellow.

What’s more, when the brown fruits rupture in late summer or early fall, they can fling a single black seed as far as 30 feet into the distance!

Seed pods

witch hazel varieties produce brilliant fall color

Most varieties produce brilliant fall color 

But at the end of the day, the ‘wow factor’ for me lies in witch hazel’s unusual, spidery flowers. Ribbon-like in appearance, they dangle from bare branches in clusters of burnt orange, deep red and bright yellow. The petals unfurl on warmer days and roll back up when the temperature drops below freezing. The flowers typically last for up to a month.

bird in wi hazel



Ready to give witch hazel a try? Here’s a rundown of the four main species and some of their hybrids and cultivars.

Hamamelis x intermedia

These lovely witch hazel varieties are loosely branched and medium-sized. Growing to about 12 feet tall and wide, they have oval leaves that turn yellow in the fall. From late February to March, twisted yellow, red or orange flowers appear on bare stems ahead of spring foliage. Popular cultivars include: Arnold’s Promise, Diane, Jelena, and Pallida.

h.intermedia arnold promise

H. x intermedia

Hamamelis virginiana

This variety produces flowers that are typically bright yellow, although some cultivars produce reddish ones. The shrub’s leaves turn yellow in the fall. Popular varieties include Little Suzie and Harvest Moon.


H. virginiana

Hamamelis vernalis

Intensely fragrant with crooked stems and an open crown, this shrub’s flowers range in color from yellow to dark red. The petals roll up on cold days. Most noteworthy cultivars include Autumn Embers, Lombart’s Weeping and Sandra.


H. vernalis

Hamamelis japonica

Less hardy than the other witch hazel varieties, Hamamelis japonica can’t handle extremes in cold weather. In its native Japan, the shrub’s pale yellow, red and purple flowers are prized in tea ceremonies. 

h. japonica

H. japonica

Hamamelis mollis

Considered the most fragrant of all the witch hazel varieties, Hamamelis mollis‘ rich yellow flowers with elongated petals are larger than those of other species and have less of a twist. Outstanding cultivars include Goldcrest, Crimson Gold and Superba.


H. mollis


Although witch hazels tolerate a range of light levels, they flower best in full sun. That being said, they do just fine in dappled shade. The most important thing is to give them well-drained, loamy, acidic soil. Most species also need a chilling period of at least two months with temperatures below 45 degrees to ensure flowering.

In addition to its good aesthetics, Hamamelis can be used externally to treat swelling and inflammation. Some say it also helps treat insect bites and poison ivy. Witch hazel’s therapeutic properties gained widespread acceptance in the United States in 1866. This followed the first commercial introduction of an astringent made from its bark and leaves by Thomas Newton Dickinson.

w hazel leaves

For more information about this versatile, winter-flowering shrub, check out Chicago Botanic Garden’s “Which Witch Hazel Should Be In Your Yard.”


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