Please enjoy the 2023 return of our Bloom Where You Are Planted Journals, sent monthly from your friendly neighborhood land trust, the Chestnut Hill Conservancy. These offer seasonal inspiration and guidance from experts for you about trees and plants, animals and bugs, City water quality, stormwater management, the beautiful green space that sustains the Wissahickon watershed, and more.
Tree of the Month
by Paul W. Meyer, Conservancy Board Member and
Morris Arboretum’s Retired F. Otto Haas Executive Director
Trees are essential to Chestnut Hill’s sense of place. Not only do they beautify our community but they also clean and cool the air, fix co2, while producing life-giving oxygen. Trees are critical in protecting our watershed, insuring a steady and clean supply of water.
Residents of Chestnut Hill are fortunate to have inherited a bounty of large canopy trees as well as smaller flowering trees. But we can’t take this wonderful legacy for granted. We must not only care for our aging trees but also plan and plant for the future urban forest of Chestnut Hill.
Pictured: Yulan Magnolia (Magnolia denudata) at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church
Witch Hazel, Queen of Winter
As winter drags on, nothing lifts our spirits and kindles the hope of spring like the winter-blooming witch hazels that sometimes starts blooming as early as January. These are large shrubs or small, usually multi-stemmed trees, occasionally growing up to over 20 feet in height. They are primarily derived from three species – Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), Ozark witch hazel (H. vernalis) and Japanese witch hazel (H. japonica).
These witch hazels are fully winter hardy and easy to grow in full sun or light shade. They grow best in moist but well-drained soils. Functionally, it is best to site plants where they can be easily seen and enjoyed from the indoors on a cold winters day.
The flower petals are coiled in the buds like watch springs, and early in their flowering period, have the ability to curl back up when the colder weather hits. The petals themselves are remarkably cold-hardy, though they tend to be more easily damaged toward the end of their flowering period. Varieties are available from local nurseries and an outstanding selection is available by mail order.
These are some favorites:
Hamamelis mollis ‘Princeton Gold’ witch hazel
Hamamelis mollis ‘Princeton Gold’ is dramatically highlighted against dark evergreens at Gates Hall, Morris Arboretum.
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ – Diane hybrid witch hazel
Diane is an excellent red-flowered witch hazel. It was a selection from a breeding program conducted at the Kalmthout Arboretum in Belgium.
Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’ witch hazel
This winter blooming, superior cultivar of Chinese witch hazel was selected at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley. It blooms heavily, even at a very early age. It is among the best yellow- flowered Chinese witch hazels. It was photographed here on January 19, 2023 growing in a Chestnut Hill home garden.
Photos by Paul Meyer
A BRIEF HISTORY OF WITCH HAZEL
Until recent decades, winter blooming witch hazels were relatively
unknown outside of botanic gardens and connoisseur’s gardens, and little work had been done in selecting superior flowering forms.
In 1963, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University introduced one of the early hybrid cultivars, ‘Arnold Promise’. The original plant was grown from seed taken from a Chinese witch hazel in the collection where the Japanese species was growing nearby. As the seedling matured, its profuse flowering attracted attention, and its characteristics were determined to be intermediate between the Chinese and Japanese species.
Working independently in Belgium, Jelena de Belder of Kalmthout
Arboretum was smitten with witch hazels. Building upon an existing collection, she raised and evaluated thousands of seedlings, ultimately introducing many cultivars selected for heavy flowering, scent and various shades of yellow, orange and red. Some of her most famous introductions include ‘Jelena’, ‘Diane’, ‘Limelight’, Primavera’ and ‘Ruby Glow’.
In recent decades, many other enthusiasts have continued to hybridize and select new cultivars. Today there are well over one hundred cultivars, and that number continues to grow. Many of these can be seen at the Morris Arboretum but most are not easily available commercially.
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