Flowers In December
By Anne Allbright Smith
From Issue 8: Fall 2010
If you think that everything is over by the end of October and that no flowers will bloom again until spring—you’re wrong! You can find star-like yellow flowers on leafless stems from October through December. This is WITCH-HAZEL (Hamamelis virginiana) and it is quite a remarkable shrub not only because it is the last plant to bloom in the Northeastern forest, but because the fruit, flowers and next year’s leaf buds all appear on the branch simultaneously.
The flower has four slender yellow petals, and the fruit is a two part capsule containing two glossy black seeds. There are few fruits since there are few pollinators (bees and flies) at the time of blooming!
The flowers are welcome enough in late fall/early winter, but here’s the fun part: Take one of those capsules home and just leave it on a table. About eight months later that capsule will explode! It will literally shoot its two seeds across the room at the most unexpected time.
You can find witch- hazel in any woods but it is especially prevalent along the Upper Awosting Carriageway, accessed from the Lake Minnewaska parking area in Minnewaska State Park.