The first of our Park’s deciduous plants has emerged from its seasonal slumber! You can find witch hazel (Hamamelis) blooming throughout our Tribeca parklands: yellow-petaled H. x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ flower along our esplanade and in the planters on Pier 26, while copper red H. x intermedia ‘Diane’ add warmth to our Tribeca boardwalk’s still-subdued winter landscape.
Found in North America, China and Japan, witch hazel is a shrub or small tree that, depending on species, blooms in autumn or winter and is one of the few plants that simultaneously bear fruit, leaves and flowers. Sometimes called “snapping hazel” for its explosive seed dispersal, witch hazel seed capsules burst upon maturity, propelling their contents up to thirty feet from the plant! And though the plant’s flowers may appear delicate, they have adapted for brutal winter weather with thin, temperature-sensitive petals that retract when cold and unfold when warm.
Unique not only for its cold-weather durability, witch hazel is one of few medicinal plants approved by the FDA as an ingredient for nonprescription medication. Today in the US, witch hazel is largely used as a topical astringent, but various Native Americans tribes have used the plant’s bark and leaves to treat other ills as well, from easing sore muscles to treating respiratory and gastrointestinal complaints. In Colonial America, witch hazel was also a popular choice for “dowsers” who used its branches to help divine the location of underground water.
For our Park’s witch hazels, of course, water is never far afield—which makes their hearty endurance all the more impressive as they bloom against winter wind off the mighty Hudson. Be sure to check out these unique flowers next time you take a stroll or jog through our Tribeca section, and keep your eyes on our flowerbeds during the weeks to come. Crocuses and daffodils are beginning to show their colorful faces along our Park—just a hint of the blossoming season on its way!