Witch Hazel, Or Wych Hazel, a name applied in England to an elm (ulmus montana), the leaves of which resemble those of the hazel; the same tree is also called wych elm, its wood having been used to make the chests or boxes for keeping provisions which the old writers called wyches. The name wych or witch hazel was transferred by the early settlers to an American shrub or small tree, hamamelis Virginica. In naming the genus Linnaeus gave it the old Greek name for the medlar, to which the plant bears no resemblance. It gives its name to a small family, the hamamelaceoe, which includes several Asiatic genera, and in this country two others besides hamamelis: Fothergillia, a southern shrub, and liquidamlar, one of our finest forest trees. The witch hazel, which is found in damp woods from Canada to Louisiana, is an irregular shrub with long and pliant branches, which sometimes reaches the height of 20 ft., but is usually not over 10 ft.; the alternate obovate or oval, wavy-toothed leaves have straight veins, giving them the appearance of those of the hazel, are slightly downy, and are on very short petioles; the flowers, from buds formed during the summer, open just as the leaves are falling in October or November; they are in clusters of three or four upon a short stalk, with an involucre of three scales; the four-parted calyx is downy; the petals are four, long, narrow, and crumpled; there are four perfect stamens, and four imperfect and scale-like; two styles surmount the downy ovary, which ripens into a downy, two-beaked, two-celled woody pod, each cell containing a large, hard, but edible seed; the pods mature late in the following summer, and often not until flowering time; the pod, bursting elastically, ejects the seeds with considerable force.
The wood is white and close, and the bark and leaves contain a large amount of tannin and have been used as astringents; the bark was employed by the Indians as an application to painful tumors, and a fluid extract is used by some practitioners as a local remedy to allay pain. From its unusual time of flowering, the witch hazel forms a conspicuous object in the autumn woods; when the leaves have fallen it appears covered with bright yellow flowers; on account of this peculiarity, the shrub is cultivated in Europe. One other species grows in Japan; the other species accredited to this country are mere varieties of H. Virginica.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Virginica).