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Hamamelis mollis Oliv.

Common name(s): Chinese witchhazel
Family: Hamamelidaceae
Type: Woody shrub, small tree
Size: 10-15' high x wide, 20'+ possible
Texture: Medium
Hardiness: Zone 5a USDA
Range: Central China
Fruit
Introduction:

What better way to get rid of those winter blues than through an explosion of golden yellow blooms in the first weeks of Febrary? Dainty and delicate, these fragrant blossoms adorn slender branches in clusters for up to a month!

But this tree's virtues don't stop with its blooms. Soft grayish-green leaves form in spring, giving way to brilliant yellowish-apricot colors in the fall to reveal slender, silvery trunks.

I love watching the leaves shift in summer breezes, the doppled sun forming shifting patterns on underplanted Biokovo geraniums and other fine-textured, bright shade-loving perennials.

Happiest in partial shade to full sun, this remarkably tolerant species has few insect or disease problems. It does like moisture, but can tolerate drought.

Foliage:

Leaves
Nearly round and between 3 and 6" long, the dull green leaves are covered with fine hairs above and dense grayish hairs beneath. The leaf margins are wavy, accentuating the deep veins.

Taxonomic description:

Orbicular-obovate to obovate, short-acuminate, obliquely cordate to subcordate at base. Margins sinuately denticulate, pubescent above, grayish tomentose beneath. Petioles stout, densely pubescent.

Flowers:

Quite a sight for winter-weary eyes, the 5/8" long flowers are yellow and fragrant and appear in February, lasting several weeks. Borne in small clusters, they each have four long, strap-like petals that curl up in cold weather.

Taxonomic description:

Perfect, calyx ferrugineously tomentose outside, purpish-red inside, petals golden yellow, reddish at the base. 5/8" long, 4-petalled.

Flowers
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Fruit:

Not at all ornamental, the brownish fruit adorn the branches in small clusters. Fortunately, they are hidden as the leaves emerge.

Taxonomic description:

Two-valved, dehiscent capsule containing two jet black seeds, splitting at maturity. Capsule is enclosed 1/3 by the calyx.

Fall Color:

Fall Color
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This witchhazel has the best fall color of any in its genus, ranging from a spectacular yellow to yellow-orange.

Bark:

The bark is a smooth, silvery gray on older branches, with younger stems more grayish and slightly pubescent.

Pathology:

This is a relatively disease and insect-free species, with no serious problems, although Japanese beatles sometimes eat the foliage.

Propagation:

Seed treated with 3 months cold followed by 3 months warm treatment resulted in high germination rates.

Cuttings taken in June and treated with 1% IBA also root well.

Comments:

This witchhazel is happiest in moist, acidic, well-drained organic soils in full sun to partial shade. However, it has proven to be quite drought-tolerant in East-Central Illinois in heavy clay soil, blooming heavily with no winter protection.

Suggested uses:

Best en masse, this tree can produce quite a floriferous display that only gets better with quantity. It also works quite well to soften building edges or as a single specimen in a shaded garden corner.
Habit in flower
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Cultivars:

'Brevipetala' Twisted, longer flower petals
'Coombe Wood' Wider spreading with slightly larger fragrant flowers
'Donny Brook' Golden yellow flowers
'Early Bright' Brighter yellow flowers 3-4 weeks earlier than species
'Goldcrest' Later blooming rich golden yellow flowers
'Pallida' Sulphur-yellow flowers, lustrous green leaves (Note: Windsor Great Park in Wisley, sells the original stock, raised by Mr. Louis Russell others are not of the same lineage)

Medicinal uses:

This species has no significant medicinal uses.

References:

  • Bean, W. J. Trees & Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles: Supplement.. London: John Murray, 1997.
  • Dirr, Michael. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Champaign: Stipes Publishing, 1990.
  • Griffiths, M. The Index of Garden Plants. Portland: Timber Press, 1994.
  • Johnson, Warren T. and Howard H. Lyon. Insects That Feed on Trees and Shrubs. Ithica: Cornell University, 1994.
  • Rehder, Alfred. Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs. New York: MacMillan Publishing.
  • Sinclair, Wayne A. et al. Diseases of Trees and Shrubs. Ithica: Cornell University, 1993.
  • Wyman, Donald. Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia. New York: MacMillan, 1986.


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