Thursday, October 19, 2023

Season of the Witch

Hamamelis virginiana flower
 I love witch hazels, Hamamelis sp. And even though summer is my favorite season, I also love Halloween. So it's time for the convergence of those two loves; our native Hamamelis virginiana is in bloom!

For those not familiar, witch hazels are large, multi-stemmed shrubs native to woodlands of North America, Japan, and China. They generally grow 15 feet tall and wide, with a spreading branch habit. In gardens they prefer a fair amount of sun for best flower bud formation, but are shade tolerant. They are ideal for bright shade gardens as mid-story accent plants. They like a soil with organic matter, but are adaptable to any site that isn't dry or wet. 

Hamamelis virginiana ranges from Nova Scotia to Minnesota and south to Florida and eastern Texas. The flower buds of H. virginiana are formed on new growth and start blooming in October and can last into December. Flowers are generally yellow, but can be orange to red as well. They may or may not be fragrant; fragrance is affected by local conditions as well as genetics. They are mostly pollinated by flies and moths. Though they are pollinated in fall, fertilization of the ovary actually takes place in spring!  

Hamamelis virginiana flowers

Foliage during the season is green and shaped like hazel. Fall Color is yellow and often hides the flowers. Color starts in October, with leaves dropping by early November here in Wisconsin.  

Twigs are pliant when young (which is where the witch  part of the common name comes from - wiche or wych) and older wood is dense and strong. All parts contain several phytochemicals and extractions have been used for centuries as antiseptic, astringent, and anti-inflammatory; but so far those uses aren't well-supported by clinical evidence.

Seeds also ripen in Autumn, and the seed capsule splits explosively, ejecting seeds 30 feet or more. Seeds have a complex dormancy and can take two years to germinate. 

H. virginiana 'Little Prospect'

There are many selected forms of H. virginiana. 'Harvest Moon' and 'Phantasm' were selected as being heavy-blooming. 'Little Suzie' is a dwarf selection, growing to about 8' tall and wide. 'Mohonk Red', 'Vincent's Red', and 'Copper Curls' were all selected for having orange to red toned flowers. 'Green Thumb', 'Little Prospect', and 'Lemon Lime' are all variegated forms with yellow and green foliage. The first two are very similar, with wide yellow margins surrounding dark green centers. 'Lemon Lime' has green leaves splashed with yellow. All of them grow to around 10' tall and wide. 'Winter Champagne' was selected for being later blooming, in December in southern Wisconsin and March or April here in the north; it's also vigorous, and larger growing to nearly 20' tall and wide. Tim Brotzman thinks it's likely a hybrid between H. virginiana and H. vernalis, and I'm inclined to agree. 

Witch hazels really extend the season; H. virginana is the last thing to bloom here in the north and the other species and hybrids are usually the fist plants to bloom in spring. They also all tend to have good fall color. They're one of my favorite large shrubs and more people should be growing them. 

Hamamelis virginiana fall color

Monday, May 1, 2023

Anemone 'Macane001' WILD SWAN™ PP23132

Anemone 'Macane001' WILD SWAN™ PP23132 was kind of a smash hit when it hit the market about 10 years ago. Its white flowers with lavender sepal backs are incredibly stunning and offer a delicate looking addition to partial shaded gardens. 

This plant was the first in a series of new hybrids involving A. rupicola and A. x hybrida (the fall-blooming Japanese Anemones) from Elizabeth and Alasdair MacGregor of Kirkcudbright, Scotland. 'Macane001' turned up in a batch of seed collected from Anemone rupicola at their nursery. The A. rupicola was growing with A. x hybrida forms and the seedling showed some intermediate characteristics and hybrid vigor. 

The flowers start blooming in June and will bloom much of the summer like A. rupicola. But they are larger and held on taller stems more like A. x hybrida. The overall plant is larger like A. x hybrida, but makes a well-behaved mound like A. rupicola, whereas most A. x hybrida are rhizomatous spreaders. 

Hardiness was the big unclear factor when this new hybrid was introduced. Anemone rupicola is native to high elevations of Afghanastan into SW China and is generally hardy to USDA z6. Anemone x hybrida is hardy to at least USDA z5, with many cultivars hardy into z4. Originally marketed as a z6 hardy plant, I managed to get a plant to trial in z5 and it has performed beautifully, blooming June through August. I planted a few here in z4 in 2021 and they survived to 2022 and performed beautifully as well. It's still a bit early as of now to see how they survived this past winter. If for some reason they didn't survive, I will assume it's from moisture rather than cold. 

So far I haven't seen any seed produced nor have seedlings come up spontaneously. I've assumed that this group of hybrids would be sterile, but most of the newer introductions are multigenerational hybrids of A. rupicola x A. x hybrida crossed back to A. x hybrida. So it might just be that they aren't naturally pollinated or they need to be pollinated by A. x hybrida to set viable seed. I might have to attempt some crossings. 

For culture, the one in z5 is planted in sandy-loam on a NE corner of my in-laws house and grows with Hosta, Heuchera, Clematis, and several weeds seen in the picture below. My plants here are planted in our silt-loam with similar companions. In both cases they get partial morning sun and bright shade or dappled light the rest of the day. I think fairly well-drained soil is beneficial to survival, wet winters might be problematic but I'm not sure about that. 

I'm working on getting more plants from the series to trial here. I'm selling Elfin Swan this year and will plant some as trial. I need to get Dreaming Swan and Dainty Swan in the future. Hopefully they all prove equally hardy, but that's not a guarantee. I did try Dreaming Swan when I got my first Wild Swan; they were all grown in pots that first year and the Wild Swan overwintered while the Dreaming Swan didn't. They might be less cold hardy or more sensitive to winter moisture. They might survive in the ground better. I'll find out and report back.