30 x 23.75 in | 76.2 x 59.37 cm
Witch Hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) are small trees with multiple, arching trunks and branches. I have often admired their graceful shape but never found one that was sufficiently dramatic to become the subject of a painting. At least not until I hiked up a knoll of Hemlock trees (Tsuga Canadensis) and saw a row of them at the edge of a pond. They like wet soil and can tolerate a good deal of shade, but not as much as the Hemlocks provide, so they stretched out over the pond to catch the sun. The graceful beauty of their branches was accentuated by the dappled light and reflections behind them. Their new leaves dotted the open space like flocks of tiny birds. They contrasted dramatically with the massive, darkness of the Hemlocks. Since almost nothing can grow under the shade of the Hemlock, the fresh green sprouts of Trout Lilies (Clintonia borealis) stood out against bare leaf litter. The Trout Lilies were not yet in flower. I missed them by only a few days, but the Witch Hazel would not flower until the end of summer.
The Witch Hazel has a weird set of names, both English and Botanical. The English name comes from colonial America, where its flexible forked branches were used as a “witching stick” or dowsing stick, to find hidden water. The word “witch” is derived, not from witches, but from the old English word for a pliable branch, “wych”. The botanical name is equally interesting. It combines two Greek word roots meaning “apple” and “together,” referring to the tree’s habit of flowering in the fall, at the same time that the apple matures. Witch hazel bark is a traditional herb of the First Nations of North America who used it to heal wounds, treat tumors, and eye problems. Witch Hazels are native to every State and Province east of the prairies. This particular cluster lives in a conservation area near Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada.