Along with the color of the changing foliage the last native flowers of the season come into full bloom. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a common shrub of
the woodlands lining the Great Allegheny Passage. Unlike all other trees, shrubs and herbaceous wildflowers, this native species flowers in fall.
Along the outer twigs, and often among leaves turning and about to fall, the tiny flowers open their narrow strap-like petals to the last insects flying on warm afternoons. The bloom are dense of some branches and when the sun back lights them the woody growths take on a soft golden edge that glows.
The flowers will continue for through the middle October. Once pollinated curiously shaped beak-like fruits mature for nearly a year and can be found on the branches along with the flowers. In addition, like many shrubs, the flower buds for next year are formed in the fall.
It's not unusual to find branches of witch hazel with buds, flowers and fruit all together.
When the two-parted fruits dry they split down the middle explosively and discharge glossy black seeds up to 30 feet away from the adult shrub thus spreading the species slowly by surely.
Witch hazel is steeped in legend. One of the most interesting is that this is the shrub from which divining rods are made. More utilitarian aspects of the woody shrub include extracts from the bark and leaves to make an astringent lotion.