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First Blooms: Witch-Hazel in Greenwich Village

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Witch hazel (Hamamelis arborea). , Digital ID 1575348, New York Public LibraryWitch-hazel. Many plants have evocative names, but few can beat witch-hazel. It sounds magical, although as an old-fashioned treatment for insect bites, maybe it is less than magic, but its scent always makes you feel cooler and fresher.

What is magical about witch-hazel is that it is, right now, on March 1st, in full bloom. The first tree (after all, it's still winter) to flower, witch-hazel does not have particularly showy blooms. Its yellow pales compared to daffodils or forsythia, but it shines in winter in its solitary assertion that spring is coming. So it looks pretty magnificent to me.

Several witch-hazels are blooming in the Village, nice ones in Hudson River Park, just south of Houston Street, and a beautiful tree in St. Luke's Garden on Hudson Street. Go enjoy their magic before the gardens run riot with color.

Spring is coming and now is the time to enjoy a gardening book! It's not too early. I got my seeds last weekend (morning glories, another magical plant).

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What kind of Witch Hazel?

Most internet sources claim that the "vernal" (spring blooming) witch hazel is only down south, whereas the more widespread varieties are said to bloom in late fall. However yesterday I saw what appeared to be witch hazel blooming in Riverside Park, and it seems the author of this article has also ID'd spring blooming witch hazels around NYC. Are these transplants that miraculously can survive in NY due to our relatively mild winters or what? So far I have not been able to find any botany page that mentions vernal witch hazel growing in the northeast.

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