Family, Witch-hazel. Color, yellow. Leaves, alternate, straight-veined, simple, oval or ovate, wavy-margined, downy beneath. Calyx, 4-cleft, with bractlets underneath. Petals, 4, long, narrow, strap-shape, sometimes twisted. Stamens, short, 4 perfect and 4 without anthers. Styles, 2. Fruit, a 2-horned capsule. Seeds, 2 in each capsule, hard, black, tipped with white. Flowers, sessile, 3 or 4 in axillary clusters, with a stale-like, 3-leaved involucre underneath. August to October.
A slender shrub with crooked branches, sometimes attaining the size of a tree 10 to 30 feet high, but seldom growing like a tree with a single trunk. By blossoming in the fall, while the leaves are dropping, and maturing seed next summer, this plant reverses the seasons. The seeds, when ripe, are often ejected from the pod with considerable force - "sometimes," says Mr. Gibson, "to a distance of 40 feet." He writes: 'I had been attracted by a bush which showed an unusual profusion of bloom, and while standing close beside it in admiration I was suddenly stung on the cheek by some missile, and the next instant shot in the eye by another, the mysterious marksman having apparently let off both barrels of his little gun directly in my face. I soon discovered him, an army of them - in fact, a saucy legion - all grinning with open mouths and white teeth exposed, and their double-barreled guns loaded to the muzzle and ready to shoot whenever the whim should take them."
Within my memory the twigs of this shrub have been used to detect the presence of water beneath the ground. I recall an old man solemnly stalking over my father's place with a magic witch-hazel wand in his hand. I followed him expectantly, hoping to see the rod tremble. Whether in this instance the old farmer's sign was distrusted, or whether the twig did not shake, I cannot remember. The well was never dug.
Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
The witch-hazel, when properly prepared, is esteemed a valuable household remedy. (See illustration, p. 429.)