With several specimens in hearty bloom now, the Arboretum’s witch-hazel collection includes some of the most diverse and fascinating plants in our winter and early spring landscape. In Part 1 of this series, Horticulture Manager Andrew Gapinksi offered an introduction to the genus, as well details on some standout specimens. Keep reading for more recommendations from Andrew on not-to-miss witch-hazels.
Japanese witch-hazel (H. japonica) differs from Chinese witch-hazel with a more flat-topped form, slightly later blooms, hardier flower buds, and slightly longer petals produced less abundantly and muted in color. A fairly sizable specimen (475-90*A) can be found in the Leventritt Shrub and Vine Garden. An accession of the variety named H. japonica f. flavpurpurascens (10161*A), known for its purplish flowers, is perhaps our collection’s finest representation of the species. Located in the understory of the Hickory Collection, this original Wilson collection from 1919 introduced the variety into North America.
Hamamelis x intermedia
In 1928, William Judd, propagator at the Arboretum under Founding Director Charles Sargent, germinated open-pollinated seed from a remarkable specimen of Chinese witch-hazel collected by Wilson in 1908. Seven of the seedlings were planted in the collections, carrying accession number 1173-28. Two of them (1173-28-A and G) still survive.
Observations over the years suggest that these plants are hybrids between H. mollis and H. japonica. In 1945, renowned Arboretum taxonomist Alfred Rehder named this hybrid Hamamelis × intermedia, because it displays the “intermediate”
traits of the parent species. Arboretum Horticulturist Donald Wyman referred to one of the Judd plants in our curatorial records as the “best of all in flower.” Writing in Arnoldia in 1963, Wyman announced the registration of a new clonal cultivar: Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’. With profusely borne, fragrant, and vibrant yellow blossoms, it captured all of the best floral traits of its maternal parent (H. mollis), as well as the better winter hardiness, larger petals, and less winter leaf retention of H. japonica. It also displayed signs of hybrid vigor, with a more upright form compared to its spreading parents.
Over the years, a great number of H. × intermedia cultivars have been introduced to horticulture, but ‘Arnold Promise’ remains a favorite. Although the original ‘Arnold Promise’ plant no longer survives, a cutting taken in 1969 (accession 396-69-A) grows near its original location next to the Hunnewell Building. Additionally, several other H. × intermedia selections grace our collections, including the orange cultivar ‘Jelena’ (317-94*A), also near the Hunnewell Building; the red selection ‘Feuerzauber’ (198-78*A), located in the understory of the oaks along Meadow Road; and ‘Diane’ (928-89*A), on the southwest side of Peters Hill.