First tree flower

February 11, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

When I was working at Yale just about every day, one of my favorite sights at this time of year was the university's collection of early blooming Witch Hazels. Our native species, Hamamelis virginiana, is about the last plant to bloom in the fall, but the Yale plants were decidedly different and bore their strange, crepe-paper petals in February and March. They also came in vibrant colors, reds and yellows—a dramatic counterpoint to the soft and subtle yellow-greens of our native species. The Yalies, I would learn, could have had southern roots: an Ozark Plateau species called H. vernalis had the early-blooming habit and might have been used to pass the trait on to garden hybrids. There are also Chinese and Japanese species that have been used to craft horticultural varieties that can flower while there's still snow on the ground. I have one of those, a red-blooming one, and while I can't immediately put a name to it—I have to get my garden records in better order—I think it's one of those Oriental crosses that go by the name "intermedia." By whatever name, it's truly a sight for sore eyes as it now begins to unfurl those delightful petals.


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