New England to Florida and westward.
Flowers: few; growing in an axillary cluster on short peduncles; sessile. Calyx: four-parted, with bractlets underneath. Corolla: of four almost linear petals; often twisted. Stamens: eight; four perfect; the others without anthers. Pistils: two. Fruit: an edible nut that matures the next season. Leaves: alternate; oval; wavy on the edges; slightly downy. A shrub with several branching, crooked trunks from the root.
Whether the witch-hazel has simply forgotten to provide itself with a calendar, or whether it has the revolutionary spirit which would turn the world topsy-turvy, is still an open question. But to those that are bent on investigation a gentle hint may be given that the evidence is all in the latter direction. Otherwise why should it allow the spring and lovely summer to glide by without making them any greeting and wait until the late autumn, when the leaves are falling, to put out its pale yellow bloom. The seeds mature the next summer, which is nothing more than an audacious reversal of the orthodox order of things. The witch-hazel makes a plaything of the seasons.
It is well charged with ammunition too, and once fired it at Mr. Hamilton Gibson, who has told most amusingly of his rencontre with the shrub. When standing lost in admiration of it, he found himself wounded first on the cheek and then in the eye. In alarm he looked about for a hidden adversary and discovered it was the seeds of the witch-hazel which were bursting out from their coverings and shooting in all directions, he noticed to a distance of forty feet.
Again there is supposed to be some latent mysterious power about the twigs, which in remote parts of the country are still used as divining rods and to locate the presence of water underground. We feel a little more comfortable about the shrub when we remember that the extract from it is very domestic. In fact, we are occasionally informed that no household without it can possibly exist.
Plants Growing in Light Soil: Open Woods.
Perhaps it is the lively spring wind that wakes the flowers in the open woods, and laughs loudly while they take their places. They creep in as quietly as spirits, and seek the spots where they will be warm in the sunshine that falls through the trees and stains them with a ruddy richness. The dew absorbs their fragrance and lingers lovingly about as though loth to seek the sky. Knowing birds weave their nests beside them and peep out a sharp, round eye to see if any harm is near. The whole community know the country boy a little better than do those of the deep woods; but they are not afraid, and cajole him with their merriment.