Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 911 Fothergilla major

Common Names: witch-alder, large fothergilla, large witch-alder Family: Hamamelidaceae (witch-hazel Family)
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Witch-alder is a beautiful choice as an understory shrub and is especially useful in moist soils and shady woodland situations.


Witch-alder, or large fothergilla, is a suckering deciduous shrub that gets 6-10 ft (1.8-3.1 m) tall with slightly less of a spread. It grows in a rounded mound with multiple, mostly erect stems. The obovate to nearly round leaves are glossy dark green, and 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) long with coarsely toothed margins. They are noteworthy for turning brilliant reds, oranges and yellows (often all colors on the same plant) in fall. The flowers are little white, sometimes pink-tinged, bottlebrushlike spikes 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) long. The "bristles" on the spikes are actually stamens - fothergilla flowers have no petals. The showy flowers appear in early spring before and along with the leaves, and may last for 2-3 weeks. They smell like delicate honey. A handful of selections have been named. 'Blue Mist' has bluish foliage. 'Mt. Airy' was selected by the University of Georgia plantsman, Michael Dirr, from material growing at the Mt. Airy Arboretum in Cincinnati. It is said to be superior to the species in nearly all regards including cold hardiness, flower size and abundance, fall color and general robustness.

flower spike
Witch-alder produces showy bottlebrush flower spikes in early Spring that are pleasantly fragrant and a wonderful addition to woodland gardens.


Witch-alder, Fothergilla major, occurs in swamp margins and moist woodlands in the Allegheny Mountains of the southeastern U.S., from SE Virginia and North Carolina to South Carolina and northern Alabama.


Acidic soil is a must for witch-alder; it will not tolerate limey conditions. It does best in a moist, leafy, acidic soil, rich in humus in partial shade. Once established, witch-alder is just about the most trouble free flowering shrub you can grow. Light: Grow witch-alder in a site that is part shady to nearly full sun. Plants in more sun will be bushier and more floriferous. In hot climates, grow in shade. Moisture: Witch-alder likes a moist soil, and this is especially important in hot climates. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 8. Propagation: Seeds should be planted in a coldframe or containers in fall and allowed to overwinter outdoors. Softwood tip cuttings taken in summer can be rooted under mist. Witch-alder can also be propagated by air-layering.
Witch-alder has handsome foliage that changes in autumn to spectacular shades of read and orange.


Grow witch-alder in a woodland or naturalistic garden, or in a mixed shrub border. This is a rather slow growing, but long-lived shrub. Witch-alder can also be massed as an understory feature, or used in foundation plantings. This is great shrub for the understory of large trees. The showy spring flowers and dependable autumn color make this little American native a standout in the home landscape. Witch-alder is one of the most attractive of all shrubs in fall.


There are just two species of Fothergilla, both native to the southeastern United States. Other members of the the family, Hamamelidaceae include sweetgum, witchhazel and loropetalum.

Steve Christman 2/12/01; updated 12/16/03

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Fothergilla species profiled on Floridata:

Fothergilla gardenii

( dwarf fothergilla )

Fothergilla major

( witch-alder, large fothergilla, large witch-alder )

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