Native Plant Profile...
American Witch Hazel
(Hamamelis virginiana L)
A unique shrub that blooms and releases its seed in the fall and
A shrub or small tree that averages 8 to 15 feet.
Stem is crooked, and the forked branches were used for “divining rods” to locate water in earlier times.
Bark is brown and smooth; bark can become scaly as plant ages.
The leaves are alternate, oval 4” to 6” long, somewhat rounded.
Veins in the leaves are very prominent.
This species is unique in the fact that its thread-like yellow flowers do not generally appear until late in autumn or in winter after the
leaves have dropped.
The seed capsule is a pod that contains two shiny black seeds that ripens in October-November of the year following fertilization at
the same time as the blossom appears.
Ripe pods burst open throwing the seed several feet. A popping sound can be heard as the seed pod opens.
Witch Hazel prefers well drained loamy soils. Can tolerate full sun to shade,
which makes it a good choice for a shady backyard. In the wild Witch Hazel is
found in low damp woods, moist rocky locations, brushy fields moist or dry, and
Notes: This is an easily grown shrub. There are over 100 cultivars of
both the native and non-native shrub. Plant in the spring or fall. Pruning
should be done after flowering, but before summer so the flower buds for fall
can form. Plant does best at a soil pH of 5.5-6.5. H. vernalis is native
to the Ozarks and blooms in the very late winter to early spring, with red musky
smelling flowers. All species produce leaves that turn shades of yellow to red
in the fall.
Native Witch hazel
provides food for: Wild Turkey and Ruffed Grouse consume the seeds,
rabbits and squirrels eat the bark, leaves and seeds. White-tailed Deer eat
twigs, buds and leaves. Note: Native Americans also consumed the seeds.
Commercial use of the
plant: The leaves, twigs, and bark are collected in the autumn. These
plant parts contain oil which is distilled for witch –hazel extract which is
used in medicine, and cosmetics. This industry is found in New England.
Additional notes of
Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland (phone
301-949-8230) has native Witch Hazel in their garden collection.
The name "witch" has nothing to do with
witches but comes from the old English word “wych” which means pliable
The early British settlers selected this
plant for their dowsing (seeking water) work.
The plant is not a hazel, but does look
similar to the American hazelnut, Corylus Americana.
Maryland Wildlife: "Wood Mouse" or White-footed Mouse
Description: This rodent is
found throughout Maryland and in a variety of habitats. Its
physical description varies with its habitat.
The body is brown although it can be
reddish or grayish.
The belly is white.
The young are gray above with white
Tail is bicolor - dark on top, white
The tail is nearly half the total
length of the mouse.
Rodent has large ears.
Length of adult is 5”- 8”.
Tail is 21/2” to 3 7/8” in length.
Adult mice weigh about ˝ to 1 ˝ ounces.
Deer Mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus, looks very similar
and it can be a challenge to tell a woodland form of a Deer
Mouse from a White-footed or Wood Mouse. The Deer mouse is
larger with a longer tail and long hind feet.
There are two peak times for breeding, fall and spring.
Females gives birth 22 days after fertilization, producing
litters of 3-5 young.
Woods, brushy areas. Will also use habitat next to a woods such
as farm lands.
The Wood Mouse stores seeds such as black cherry pits (one of
its favorite foods) and acorns under logs and in trees, Nests
are constructed out of grass, leaves, hair, moss, and bark in a
hidden location in its habitat. The Wood Mouse will also use an
abandoned bird nest.
This mouse is a typical rodent in being nocturnal and active
throughout the year.
A Wood Mouse spends a good amount of
its time in trees and shrubs, so it is a good climber.
This mouse uses its tail for balance
when climbing trees.
It is an omnivore, eating seeds,
berries, nuts, and insects, especially beetles.
Wood Mice like to store up their seeds
- "cache" - near a nest or building.
When attempting to warn other mice of
danger it will drum its front feet.
This mouse also makes very high pitched
vocalizations, sounding like a bird trilling.
This species of mouse is very adaptable,
abundant and an important source of food for a variety of bird
and mammal predators in the food chain.
It is winter. There maybe winter precipitation,
snow, sleet, or bright sunny days. Regardless of the weather, it is a
great time to take the family, especially the children, outdoors and
enjoy nature - even if it is only a few minutes a day in your backyard
habitat or local nature center grounds.
the children look for berries that are in the trees and shrubs.
Make a list as to what color the berries are. Make a guess list of which
animal will eat the fruit. Have the family watch the shrub to see who
actually comes to eat them. Are they birds? Mammals? Or both? How many
times does a wild animal come to the plant to eat the berries? If you
don’t see the berries actually being eaten, but they are gone, have the
children look for tracks in the snow or dirt. Where do the tracks go? Do
they go to a hole? Is the hole in the ground or a tree?
Put a bird bath out.
Make sure it has clean ice free water each day. Like the observations
with the berries, count how many birds come to the water. Do mammals
come too? Will different species of birds drink water together? Which
animals will not share the bird bath? Do some birds just take a drink,
or do they take a bath too? Will domestic animals show up at the water?
What does the wildlife do when this happens? On really cold days, have
the family time how long it takes the water to freeze up (if it is not a
heated bath or aerated).
a snow, make a home-made snow gauge.
It can be a plain wooden stick with painted inches or centimeters or
both marked on it. Make several and place them in different parts of the
yard, under a tree, out in the open, under the roof, south side of the
property, north side. Compare how much snow each one receives. Is it the
same or different?
Layer Clothing to Stay
When taking the family outdoors be sure to layer the clothing, along
with gloves and hats to stay warm. Have the children think about how the
down in vests or coats are like the feathers that keep birds warm.
animals in the snow, or dirt. Compare track sizes from
immediately after a snowfall to after a day or two of freezing and
thawing. How does this change the tracks? Are they bigger? Do they get
Start a winter journal.
Write a few lines each day about what has been observed outside.
What you have seen
What sounds you have heard
What odors you smelled (animals, plants , fresh
What it feel like (windy, hot, cold, wet)
By doing all of these activities, or choosing a few
from this list, you'll spend family time with the children and everyone
will enjoy wildlife in the winter.
The Benefits of Snow
Snow has many benefits for the
How can that be?
people think of snow as an inconvenience or for sports, but actually …
A good snow cover serves
as an insulator of the soil.
Very cold temperatures without snow cover can freeze the soil deeper.
This can lead to trees and shrubs having root damage. Snow insulation
protects your ground covers and perennials from the freezing and thawing
that causes soil heaving, which dries out plant parts and causes root
Snow helps conserve water!
A slow snow melt means a steady supply of water to underground water
reserves. The water seeps into the soil, as compared to the surface run
off of a thunderstorm.
Snow acts a fertilizer for
Snow takes nitrogen from the air, and as it melts slowly releases this
element. Old time farmers knew if they had abundant snow fall, they
needed to apply less manure on the fields.
Snow provides shelter.
Small animals such as voles, rabbits and other small mammals are now
protected from predators. This insures an abundant source of food for
the predators in the spring when they are raising their young.
Snow enhances the beauty
of your landscape plantings.
Trees and shrubs with ornamental bark, such as native river birches and
red twig dogwood look more brilliant. The evergreens you have planted
for food and shelter may look much greener, especially with a bright
male cardinal in them.
is Part of the World of Nature.
If you enjoyed this issue of Habichat, you might want to check out
our online back issues and clickable listing of Habichat articles.
Click here for online back issues.
Photograph of American Witch Hazel in flower, Elaine Haug @
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database, photograph by Elaine Haug courtesy of Smithsonian
Witch Hazel Collage Photos:
(left): Ted Bodner @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Miller, J.H. and K.V.
Miller. 2005. Forest plants of the southeast and their wildlife uses.
University of Georgia Press, Athens.
(right, top): James H. Miller @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database /
Miller, J.H. and K.V. Miller. 2005. Forest plants of the southeast and
their wildlife uses. University of Georgia Press, Athens.
(right, middle): R.A. Howard @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database, photograph from
the Richard A. Howard Photograph Collection, Smithsonian Institution.
(right, bottom): W.L. Wagner @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database, photograph by W.L.
Wagner courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.
Photograph of Wood Mouse, courtesy of John White.
Here is a listing of phone numbers, web sites and organizations that you might find helpful or interesting in your search for ideas to manage your wild acres.
DNR Online... Inspired by nature!
Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at
backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North
America. FeederWatchers periodically count the highest numbers of each
species they see at their feeders from November through early April.
FeederWatch helps scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird
populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. Project
FeederWatch is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in partnership
with the National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada, and Canadian
Nature Federation. http://birds.cornell.edu/pfw
National Wildlife Federation - Details on their backyard habitat program www.nwf.org or call them at 1-800-822-9919.
Native plants - The Maryland Native Plant Society offers information dedicated to protecting, conserving and restoring Maryland's native plants and habitats, visit them at
Maryland Cooperative Extension offers home and garden information, tips publications, plant problems, Bay issues, and other links at www.agnr.umd.edu/MCE/index.cfm For their Home and Garden Information website, visit http://extension.umd.edu/learn/ask-gardening.
Bioimages, a project of
Vanderbilt University, provides educational information to the public on
biologically related topics, as well as a source of biological images for
personal and non-commercial use.
Maryland's "Becoming an Outdoors - Woman Program
"- One of the topics covered in the three-day workshops is Backyard
For a free wildlife & native
plant newsletter, visit the WindStar Wildlife Institute at
and subscribe to the WindStar Wildlife Garden Weekly e-newsletter. You can
also visit this website to learn how you can become a certified wildlife habitat
For more information on butterflies - visit the North American Butterfly Association at
Warm season grasses and wild meadows for upland nesting birds visit Pheasants
Forever at www.pheasantsforever.org or e-mail:
We want to hear from you!
Letters, e-mail, photos, drawings. Let us know how
successful you are as you create wildlife habitat on
Write to Me!
Natural Resources Biologist II
Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service
MD Dept of Natural Resources
580 Taylor Ave., E-1
Annapolis MD 21401
Access For All
Click here for online back issues.
Habichat, the newsletter for Maryland's Stewards of Backyard Wildlife, is published by the Wildlife and Heritage Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The facilities and services of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are available to all without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin, physical or mental disability. This document is available in alternative format upon request from a qualified individual with a disability.