witch hazel family

witch hazel family

Family Hamamelidaceae, comprising 23 genera of shrubs and trees, native to tropical and warm temperate regions. The six species of the genus Hamamelis include such ornamentals as witch hazel, winter hazel, and Fothergilla, which are outstanding for their early flowering and fall leaf colour. Members of the family are characterized by simple leaves and by flowers with four or five petals and sepals each. American, or common, witch hazel (H. virginiana) flowers in fall and retains yellow, cuplike calyxes (collections of sepals) through the winter. The common name refers to the forked twigs that were sometimes used for water-witching, or dowsing to locate underground water. The fragrant liniment witch hazel is made from the dried leaves and sometimes from twigs and bark. Brilliant autumn leaf colour is an outstanding trait of ironwood (Parrotia persica). Another genus, Altingia, has seven species, all Asian and all valued for their timber. A. excelsa is one of the largest trees of the Asian tropics, sometimes reaching a height of 82 ft (25 m).

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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