Canada 150 – #11 – Of Witching and Witch Hazels…

Canada 150 - #11 - Of Witching and Witch Hazels.

Funny where a photo can take you sometimes. I started with the mindset of snagging a pretty picture, so headed out to see how the Witch Hazels were blooming. Which of course led me to consider what, if any, Canadian connection there might be. Which led me from our hybrids to the native witch hazels, which predictably (or not so much) led me to the always popular topic of water divining. Still with me?

Let me start again. Here we have a photograph of one of the Witch Hazels in the Gardens. These Hamamelis x intermedia hybrids are crosses between Japanese witch hazel (H. japonica) and Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis). Their job is to bloom in the winter, and for that alone they deserve an A+, right?

There is another Witch Hazel – H. virginiana – which is native to Nova Scotia among other places. You can see this in the woods in the more southern parts of the Province. It is rumoured that Point Pleasant Park is home to a number as well. It is a fall bloomer, rather than a winter one like the hybrids.

It also turns out that Witch Hazels were a common tree for use when witching for water, an art that has a long heritage in Nova Scotia. In fact, there are still many people who have the gift, and can find water with nothing but a Y-shaped twig, or a pair of coat hangers. It is very cool to watch… and to try!

So my quest for colour took me to an old rural tradition… and as always, I learned a couple things along the way. Oh yes, and in case you were wondering… the name Witch Hazel, they say, has nothing to do with witching/divining/dowsing for water. According to an article written by David Patriquin published in the Herald, “witch” is apparently derived from the Anglo Saxon “wych”, meaning bending or pliable (referring to the stems). “Hazel” refers to its hazel-like leaves. Actually, the article is an interesting read:

The Witch Hazel shown at the top is ‘Pallida’. And below, as a bonus shot, is ‘Jelena’. What a great plant!




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