1233 Hamamelis x intermediaCommon Names: witch hazel hybrids Family: Hamamelidaceae (witch-hazel Family)
The witch hazel hybrids include several cultivars selected from among the progeny of crosses between Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica) and Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis). These are deciduous shrubs that average at maturity around 12 ft (4 m) in both height and spread . They are sparsely branched with a vase shaped, ascending then spreading habit and smaller branchlets that are zig-zaggy. The alternate, broadly oval leaves are around 6 in (15 cm) long, toothed on the margins, and bright green in summer, turning yellow in autumn. The flowers of the various cultivars are shades of yellow, orange or red. Flowers are about an inch (2.5 cm) long and borne in clusters along the bare branches in mid-winter. The flowers are fragrant and spiderlike, with elongate slender petals that resemble crinkled and twisted ribbons.
There are more than a hundred named cultivars. ‘Advent’ has bright yellow flowers and blooms in early winter. ‘Diane’ has coppery red flowers that are mildly fragrant. ‘Arnold Promise’ has sweetly fragrant bright yellow flowers and blooms a little later than most of the others. ‘Jelena’ has coppery orange flowers and excellent autumn foliage of oranges and reds. ‘Venza’ or ‘Vesna’ has large orange and red flowers with drooping petals and a strong fragrance. ‘Sunburst’ is very showy with large clusters of bright sulfur yellow flowers. ‘Westerstede’ has showy red-orange fall foliage and yellow-orange flowers in mid-winter.
Hamamelis japonica is native to Japan and H. mollis to western and central China. Breeding and selecting hybrids of the two witch hazel species is a popular endeavor among plantsmen, and cultivars have been developed in several places, including the Arnold Arboretum in Boston and various nurseries in Europe, North America and Asia.
Light: The witch hazels do best in full sun to slightly dappled shade. Flowering is best on specimens grown in full sun. In hot climates, afternoon shade is a good thing. Moisture: Witch hazels like a humus-rich, slightly acidic soil that is moisture retentive. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. The flowers, which appear in winter, are remarkably tolerant to cold temperatures; they even can survive being frozen in ice. Growing the witch hazel hybrids in Zone 9 might be pushing the heat tolerance limits a little. Provide afternoon shade above Zone 8. Propagation: Witch hazel hybrid cultivars are propagated by side grafting, bud grafting, layering or by rooting soft wood cuttings. Witch hazels often produce suckers and if these come from grafted rootstock, they will likely be undesirable. Plants propagated by layering or rooting of cuttings grow on their own roots, so any suckers are of the same variety.
The witch hazel hybrids may be the best thing to happen in your landscape in the winter. They are valued for their showy and often strongly fragrant flowers borne in mid-winter on leafless branches. The bushes themselves are elegant, spreading shrubs whose best effect also is in the winter. The fine display of yellow or orange foliage in autumn doesn’t hurt either.
The hybrid witch hazels have characteristics generally intermediate between the two parent species (hence the specific epithet). If anything, though, they are more robust and vigorous than either parent and grow faster and larger. These shrubs are best used in small gardens and courtyards, and make outstanding lawn specimens. They are also excellent in hedges, although they should not be pruned in a formal style. (If necessary to control shape and size, pruning should be done in early spring, after flowering.) Witch hazels are slow growing and easy to maintain. They require almost no attention.
Blossom bearing branches may be cut and brought indoors for fragrant wintertime arrangements.
The name witch hazel derives from wice, an Old English word for bendable plant and haesel, the name for a plant in the pine family. (The Old English were not too keen on plant systematics.) There are just a half dozen species of witch hazels, occurring only in North America and eastern Asia. Hamamelis virginiana (common witch hazel) is a native of eastern North America and the source of the medicinally active astringent that also is called witch hazel.
Steve Christman 1/17/15