Which Hazel

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Witchhazel PrimaveraHave you ever had that problem where you look at someone and you know their face, but you can’t remember their name?  It happened to me the other day.  Not with a person, but with a plant.  It’s quite embarrassing.  Of course, with plants I have a better excuse than those of you who forget human names.  Most people have only a first, middle and last name.  Plants have a first and last botanical name (genus and species) and then they usually have at least one common name and often more.

Some examples: Euonymus americana goes by Hearts-a-bustin’ or Strawberry bush;   Dicentra spectabilis is called Bleeding Heart or Lady in a Bathtub; and Digitalis purpurea is known as Foxglove but also as Dead Man’s Bells and Witch’s Thimble.  The one that tops them all is the humble little flower Viola tricolor.  Today, most people call it Johnny-jump-up, but it has about 200 different common names including Heartsease, Herb Trinity, Pink-of-my-Joan, Three-faces-in-a-hood, Jump-up-and-kiss-me, Tickle-my-fancy and probably one of the longest common names ever, Meet-her-in-the-entry-kiss-her-in-the-buttery.

Of course adding to the confusion is the fact that some common names (or a key part of the name) are applied to completely different plants. Bay is a good example – when you use that name are you referring to Lauris, Magnolia, Gordonia or Persea?  The one that tripped me up the other day is Hazel.

American hazelnutThis Garden has several Hazels.  The problem is many of them are plants that are especially interesting in the late winter so it is easy for some people to get them confused.  Generally the name hazel applied by itself refers to plants in the genus Corylus.  Growing in the Garden is the common hazel aka common filbert (Corylus avellana), the American hazelnut (Corylus americana), the contorted hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), the Siberian hazelnut (Corylus heterophylla) and the Giant filbert (Corylus maxima).  These plants are in the Birch family and are related to alders, birches and hornbeams.  The ones most interesting right now are the contorted hazel with its twisting, corkscrew branches and the American hazelnut since the flowering catkins are starting to open about now.   The giant filbert growing in Statuary Vista and some of the others will bloom a little later as the season warms.

Witchhazel DianeOther hazels dot the garden, especially the Winter Garden.  A variety of Witchhazel (Hamamelis) cultivars and species fill this garden.  Shredded little golden, copper and orange flowers cling to branches on scattered shrubs.  The two American witchhazels (Hamamelis virginiana and Hamamelis vernalis) bloomed in the late fall and dropped their flowers a while ago, but the Chinese witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis) and hybrids are in full bloom.  ‘Primavera’ is a hybrid with clear yellow flowers while ‘Diane’ sports coppery red flowers.  ‘Arnold’s Promise’ is just now starting to show some color and promises a nice display in the weeks to come.

Another hazel just starting to show some color is the spike winterhazel.  This plant is not a Hamamelis nor is it a Corylus, but instead it is part of the genus Corylopsis.  It is related to the witchhazel – both are in the Witchhazel Spike Winterhazelfamily along with Fothergilla and Lorepetalum.   However the winterhazel flowers are different, featuring pale golden bells dripping from woody stems.  The spike winterhazel (Corylopsis spicata) is one of the first to bloom.  Following a little later will be the heavily flowered Veitch’s winterhazel, the fragrant winterhazel and the buttercup winterhazel.  With the similarities, it is easy to see anyone can get confused.  It’s like going to a family reunion and calling someone by their cousin’s name.  They can get really snippy with you about it.

Finally there are two more hazels in the Garden that you might not get confused about.  One is the Hazel E. Herrin Camellia.  It too is an interesting winter plant that is currently sporting swelling pink buds.  Watch for it to bloom during the next warm spell.  The other hazel is important to all the people who work at and visit the Garden.  That is because Hazel Harvie is the facility supervisor.  She makes sure the buildings are clean and the bathrooms are well stocked.  Not someone’s name you want to forget.

So come visit the Winter Garden in the next couple of weeks.  Just give all the plants a generic wave and say “Hi Hazel” and you should be all right.  See you there.