Witch-hazel is a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelidaceae, with three species in North America (H. ovalis, H. virginiana and H. vernalis), and one each in Japan (H. japonica) and China (H. mollis). The North American species are sometimes called winterbloom.
They are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 3–8 m tall, rarely to 12 m tall. The leaves are alternately arranged, oval, 4–16 cm long and 3–11 cm broad, with a smooth or wavy margin. The horticultural name means "together with fruit"; its fruit, flowers, and next year's leaf buds all appear on the branch simultaneously, a rarity among trees. H. virginiana flowers in the fall of the year. The flowers of the other species are produced on the leafless stems in winter, thus one alternative name for the plant, "Winterbloom". Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals 1–2 cm long, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule 1 cm long, containing a single 5 mm glossy black seed in each of the two parts; the capsule splits explosively at maturity in the autumn about 8 months after flowering, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 10 m, thus another alternative name "Snapping Hazel".
The name Witch in witch-hazel has its origins in Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning "pliant" or "bendable". Hazel is derived from the use of the twigs as divining rods, just as hazel twigs were used in England. This use may also have, by folk etymology, influenced the "witch" part of the name.
Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Witch-hazel
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