The first blooms outdoors each year at Powell Gardens are those of the Vernal Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis). This shrub is endemic (found no where else) to the Ozarks and Ouchitas so is found wild only in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. If only we could add its delightful scent to these images! It is by far the most fragrant witchhazel with a pseudo-gingerbread scent. The tiny, spidery flowers are often found by your nose before you see them. We owe their existence to winter flying Noctuid moths, which pollinate them on warm winter evenings and locate them by their delicious scent.
The Vernal Witchhazel's flowers vary in color from almost yellow through shades of orange to almost purple-red. They regularly bloom for us during warm spells from January to March. One of our plants has bloomed as early as Christmas, but always after the winter solstice. The flowers are amazing in that when a cold snap occurs the petals simply roll up! They can survive temperatures colder than -10F in such a state and actually they are on their third bloom at Powell Gardens! No other witchhazel can withstand these extreme weather changes of the Heartland. Hybrid witchhazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) have showier flowers but they are less fragrant and are occasionally damaged by cold snaps during bloom. Last year's Easter Freeze was devastating to our hybrid witchhazels but the native vernal species was unscathed.
Look for Vernal Witchhazels in the Rock & Waterfall Garden during our winter warmups. Today's 72F brought them back out (they bloomed in both our 60F+ warmups in January). We will keep you posted as their companion plants are beginning to stir and bring life and bloom back to the Rock & Waterfall Garden. For those with spring fever, our Rock & Waterfall Garden is an essential visit. Vernal Witchhazels are readily available at local nurseries.
Photos taken by Alan Branhagen on February 4, 2008, in the Rock & Waterfall Garden at Powell Gardens.