New Jersey School of Conservation
Conveying knowledge of how Earth systems operate and how human actions affect these systems. Conservation is Everyone's Responsibility!
The mission of Montclair State University's School of Conservation is to gather knowledge of Earth systems through research and to communicate this knowledge through education. Our goal is to contribute to the resolution of environmental problems by cultivating environmentally responsible behaviors that will encourage scientists, teachers, students and citizens to promote sustainable practices in their communities.
By: Jennifer Correa-Kruegel, NJSOC Environmental Educator
While we normally associate flowers blooming to mean spring-time is near and fall to be our harvest season when fruit and seeds are produced, there is one unique shrub found in New Jersey that goes against all these "rules". Witch-hazel not only blooms it's wire-like yellow flowers in fall and winter after it has lost most of it's leaves but it also provides a nice house for aphids to stay in throughout the winter in the form of small black spiny galls found on the leaves that almost give the appearance of a witch's hat. In addition, Witch-hazel has some interesting folklore and medicinal purposes In addition, Witch-hazel has some interesting folklore and medicinal purposes associated with the species.
Late season bees and flies help to pollinate these inconspicuous late bloomers. Their seed capsules however, do not begin to mature until the spring and can literally explode the seeds as far as 50 feet from the tree when fully ripe the following fall. When ripe the seed capsules are are very sensitive to anyone touching it which aids in their seed dispersal.
You may have heard of Witch-hazel astringent or even have it in your medicine cabinet as there are millions of bottles sold annually from drugstores. Extract from the bark is combined with alcohol to make the astringent that is thought to heal cuts and has also been made into lotions. It is used in Europe to treat varicose veins but is strictly used for topical purposes in the United States.
There is a belief held by many that using forked branch from the Witch-hazel shrub can be used as a divining rod to find water underground in times of drought. The branch would be drawn to the ground like a magnet wherever there was water. There are still those that hold this belief today and if they are able to work their "magic" are referred to as "dowsers" or "water witches".
If you find you have the opportunity of being able to explore the woods this fall and winter, take a moment to try and find these beautiful native shrubs. Once you have found them, you may discover there are many in the surrounding area and are a surprising bright spot in what can otherwise seem like a dreary time of year.