Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)
FEIS Home Page

Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Hamamelis virginiana
American witchhazel. Creative Commons image by James H. Miller & Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society,


SPECIES: Hamamelis virginiana
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Coladonato, Milo. 1993. Hamamelis virginiana. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Updates: On 29 January 2018, the common name of the species was changed in FEIS from: witch-hazel to: American witchhazel. Photos and the map were also added.
ABBREVIATION: HAMVIR SYNONYMS: Hamamelis virginiana var. parvifolia Nutt. [3], prarie peninsula SCS PLANT CODE: HAVI4 COMMON NAMES: American witchhazel witch-hazel TAXONOMY: The cscientific name for American witchhazel is Hamamelis virginiana L. [24]. LIFE FORM: Tree, Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Hamamelis virginiana
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: American witchhazel occurs throughout the northeastern and southeastern United States.  It extends from the Appalachian Mountains south to the northern Florida Panhandle and west from the mountains into Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, western Kentucky, eastern Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, and eastern Texas.  At its northern limit, American witchhazel ranges along the southern border of Canada from southern Ontario to southern Nova Scotia. Isolated populations occur in south-central Texas and east-central Mexico at its southern limit [3,12,25,32,40].
Distribution of American witchhazel. 1977 USDA, Forest Service map digitized by Thompson and others [40].

   FRES10  White - red - jack pine
   FRES11  Spruce - fir
   FRES12  Longleaf - slash pine
   FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine
   FRES14  Oak - pine
   FRES15  Oak - hickory
   FRES18  Maple - beech - birch

     AL  AR  CT  DE  FL  GA  IL  IN  IA  KY
     LA  ME  MD  MA  MI  MN  MS  MO  NH  NJ
     NY  NC  OH  OK  PA  SC  TN  TX  VT  VA
     WV  NB  NS  ON  PQ


   K095  Great Lakes pine forest
   K096  Northeastern spruce - fir forest
   K097  Southeastern spruce - fir forest
   K100  Oak - hickory forest
   K101  Elm - ash forest
   K102  Beech - maple forest
   K104  Appalachian oak forest
   K106  Northern hardwoods
   K111  Oak - hickory - pine forest
   K112  Southern mixed forest
   K113  Southern floodplain forest

    14  Northern pin oak
    17  Pin cherry
    19  Gray birch - red maple
    20  White pine - northern red oak - red maple
    21  Eastern white pine
    22  White pine - hemlock
    23  Eastern hemlock
    24  Hemlock - yellow birch
    25  Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
    28  Black cherry - maple
    31  Red spruce - sugar maple - beech
    32  Red spruce
    40  Post oak - blackjack oak
    42  Bur oak
    43  Bear oak
    44  Chestnut oak
    45  Pitch pine
    51  White pine - chestnut oak
    52  White oak - black oak - northern red oak
    53  White oak
    55  Northern red oak
    57  Yellow-poplar
    59  Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak
    60  Beech - sugar maple
    62  Silver maple - American elm
    64  Sassafras - persimmon
    75  Shortleaf pine
    79  Virginia pine
    80  Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
    81  Loblolly pine
    82  Loblolly pine - hardwood
    83  Longleaf pine - slash pine
    93  Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
    97  Atlantic white-cedar
   108  Red maple
   110  Black oak




SPECIES: Hamamelis virginiana
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: The fruit of American witchhazel is eaten by ruffed grouse, northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, and white-tailed deer.  The fruit is also frequently eaten by beaver and cottontail rabbit [11,35]. American witchhazel fruit is a minor fall food for black bear in western Massachusetts [15]. PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES: Medicinal extracts, lotions, and salves are prepared from the leaves, twigs, and bark of American witchhazel.  The distillate is used to reduce inflammation, stop bleeding, and check secretions of the mucous membranes.  Extracts of the twigs were also believed to infuse the imbiber with occult powers [36,37]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: American witchhazel competes with more desirable hardwoods for available light and moisture [26].  Its dense cover inhibits seed germination of intolerant species [9].   Blair and Burnett [2] reported that American witchhazel, along with Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), red maple (Acer rubrum), and post oak (Quercus stellata), declined by 94.7 percent collectively after logging.


SPECIES: Hamamelis virginiana
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: American witchhazel is a deciduous shrub or small tree with a short trunk, bearing numerous spreading, crooked branches.  At maturity, it is commonly 15 to 25 (4.5-7.5 m) feet tall.  It has thin bark and shallow roots.  The fruit is a woody capsule containing two to four seeds [19,20,21,23].
American witchhazel flower. Creative Commons image by Vern Wilkins, Indiana University,

American witchhazel reproduces mainly by seed.  After maturing the capsules
burst open, explosively discharging their seeds several yards from the
parent plant.  There is limited dispersal by birds. The seeds germinate
the second year after dispersal [5,29].  Brinkman [4] reported that
American witchhazel can be propagated by layering.

American witchhazel is found on a variety of sites but is most abundant in mesic
woods and bottoms.  In the western and southern parts of its range, it
is confined to moist cool valleys, moist flats, north and east slopes,
coves, benches, and ravines.  In the northern part of its range, it is
found on drier and warmer sites of slopes and hilltops [1,6,8,27].

In addition to those species listed under Distribution and Occurrence,
common tree and shrub associates of American witchhazel include white ash
(Fraxinus americana), blackgum, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia),
blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.), pepperbush
(Clethra acuminata), sweetgum, flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and
eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) [6,7,20,30].

American witchhazel is a shade-tolerant, mid- to late-seral species.  It
sometimes forms a solid understory in second-growth and old-growth
forests in the eastern United States [9,13,14].

The flowers of American witchhazel open in September and October, and the fruit
ripens the next fall.  Shortly after ripening, the capsules burst open,
discharging their seed [4,5].


SPECIES: Hamamelis virginiana
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: DeBruyn and Buckner [10] rated American witchhazel low in fire resistance.  This is probably due to its thin bark, shallow roots, and low-branching habit.  Fire survival strategies were not given. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:    Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Hamamelis virginiana
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: American witchhazel is readily killed by fire.  In a prescribed fire in a loblolly pine community in western Tennessee, witch hazel suffered 54 percent mortality [10]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: American witchhazel's response to fire is not well documented.  Literature suggests that it is generally a fire decreaser, although pre- and postfire/unburned control comparisions were unavailable as of 1993 [17,31,38]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: On the George Washington National Forest, West Virginia, a spring prescribed fire increased American witchhazel seedling density in a mixed-hardwood forest. Average American witchhazel seedling densities before fire and in postfire year 5 were 290 and 365 seedlings/acre, respectively; American witchhazel sprout densities were 395 sprouts/acre before and 184 sprouts/acre 5 years after the fire. See the Research Paper of Wendel and Smith's [39] study for details on the fire prescription and fire effects on American witchhazel and 6 other tree species. The following Research Project Summaries provide information on prescribed
fire use and postfire response of plant community species, including
American witchhazel, that was not available when this species review was originally


SPECIES: Hamamelis virginiana
REFERENCES: 1. Adams, Harold S.; Stephenson, Steven L. 1989. Old-growth red spruce communities in the mid-Appalachians. Vegetatio. 85: 45-56. [11409] 2. Blair, Robert M.; Brunett, Louis E. 1976. Phytosociological changes after timber harvest in a southern pine ecosystem. Ecology. 57: 18-32. [9646] 3. Braun, E. Lucy. 1961. The woody plants of Ohio. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. 362 p. [12914] 4. Brinkman, Kenneth A. 1974. Hamamelis virginiana L. witch-hazel. In: Schopmeyer, C. S., ed. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agric. Handb. 450. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 443-444. [7679] 5. Chapman, William K.; Bessette, Alan E. 1990. Trees and shrubs of the Adirondacks. Utica, NY: North Country Books, Inc. 131 p. [12766] 6. Core, Earl L. 1929. Plant ecology of Spruce Mountain, West Virginia. Ecology. 10(1): 1-13. [9218] 7. Crawford, Hewlette S.; Hooper, R. G.; Harlow, R. F. 1976. Woody plants selected by beavers in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Province. Res. Pap. NE-346. Upper Darby, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 6 p. [20005] 8. Cross, Shirley G. 1992. An indigenous population of Clintonia borealis (Liliaceae) on Cape Cod. Rhodora. 94(877): 98-99. [18125] 9. Curtis, John T. 1959. The vegetation of Wisconsin. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. 657 p. [7116] 10. de Bruyn, Peter; Buckner, Edward. 1981. Prescribed fire on sloping terrain in west Tennessee to maintain loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). In: Barnett, James P., ed. Proceedings, 1st biennial southern silvicultural research conference; 1980 November 6-7; Atlanta, GA. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-34. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 67-69. [12091] 11. Della-Bianca, Lino; Johnson, Frank M. 1965. Effect of an intensive cleaning on deer-browse production in the southern Appalachians. Journal of Wildlife Management. 29(4): 729-733. [16404] 12. Duncan, Wilbur H.; Duncan, Marion B. 1987. The Smithsonian guide to seaside plants of the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts from Louisiana to Massachusetts, exclusive of lower peninsular Florida. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. 409 p. [12906] 13. Downs, Julie A.; Abrams, Marc D. 1991. Composition and structure of an old-growth versus a second-growth white oak forest in southwestern Pennsylvania. In: McCormick, Larry H.; Gottschalk, Kurt W., eds. Proceedings, 8th central hardwood forest conference; 1991 March 4-6; University Park, PA. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-148. Radnor, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station: 207-223. [15313] 14. Eggler, Willis A. 1938. The maple-basswood forest type in Washburn County, Wisconsin. Ecology. 19(2): 243-263. [6907] 15. Elowe, Kenneth D.; Dodge, Wendell E. 1989. Factors affecting black bear reproductive success and cub survival. Journal of Wildlife Management. 53(4): 962-968. [10339] 16. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 17. Fennell, Norman H.; Hutnik, Russell J. 1970. Ecological effects of forest fires. Unpublished paper on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. 84 p. [16873] 18. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 19. Godfrey, Robert K. 1988. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. 734 p. [10239] 20. Gleason, Henry A.; Cronquist, Arthur. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. New York: New York Botanical Garden. 910 p. [20329] 21. Hosie, R. C. 1969. Native trees of Canada. 7th ed. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Forestry Service, Department of Fisheries and Forestry. 380 p. [3375] 22. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 23. Kudish, Michael. 1992. Adirondack upland flora: an ecological perspective. Saranac, NY: The Chauncy Press. 320 p. [19376] 24. Little, Elbert L., Jr. 1979. Checklist of United States trees (native and naturalized). Agric. Handb. 541. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 375 p. [2952] 25. Marquis, David A. 1990. Prunus serotina Ehrh. black cherry. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Volume 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 594-604. [13972] 26. McGee, Charles E.; Hooper, Ralph M. 1970. Regeneration after clearcutting in the southern Appalachians. Res. Pap. SE-70. Asheville, NC: U.S. Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station. 12 p. [10886] 27. McGinnes, Burd S.; Ripley, Thomas H. 1962. Evaluation of wildlife response to forest-wildlife management--a preliminary report. In: Southern forestry on the march: Proceedings, Society of American Foresters meeting; [Date of conference unknown]; Atlanta, GA. [Place of publication unknown]. [Publisher unknown]. 167-171. [16735] 28. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 29. Roland, A. E.; Smith, E. C. 1969. The flora of Nova Scotia. Halifax, NS: Nova Scotia Museum. 746 p. [13158] 30. Schlesinger, Richard C. 1990. Fraxinus americana L. white ash. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Vol. 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 333-338. [13965] 31. Silker, T. H. 1957. Prescribed burning in the silviculture and management of southern pine-hardwood and slash pine stands. In: Society of American Foresters: Proceedings of the 1956 annual meeting; [Date of conference unknown]; [Location of conference unknown]. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters: 94-99. [15279] 32. Soper, James H.; Heimburger, Margaret L. 1982. Shrubs of Ontario. Life Sciences Misc. Publ. Toronto, ON: Royal Ontario Museum. 495 p. [12907] 33. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 7 p. [20090] 34. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1982. National list of scientific plant names. Vol. 1. List of plant names. SCS-TP-159. Washington, DC. 416 p. [11573] 35. Van Dersal, William R. 1938. Native woody plants of the United States, their erosion-control and wildlife values. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. 362 p. [4240] 36. Vines, Robert A. 1960. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of the Southwest. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 1104 p. [7707] 37. Walker, Laurence C. 1991. The southern forest: A chronicle. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 322 p. [17597] 38. Wydeven, Adrian P.; Kloes, Glenn G. 1989. Canopy reduction, fire influence oak regeneration (Wisconsin). Restoration & Management Notes. 7(2): 87-88. [11413] 39. Wendel, G. W.; Smith, H. Clay. 1986. Effects of a prescribed fire in a central Appalachian oak-hickory stand. NE-RP-594. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 8 p. [73936] 40. Thompson, Robert S.; Anderson, Katherine H.; Bartlein, Patrick J. 1999. Digital representations of tree species range maps from "Atlas of United States trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. (and other publications). In: Atlas of relations between climatic parameters and distributions of important trees and shrubs in North America. Denver, CO: U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services (Producer). On file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; FEIS files. [92575]

FEIS Home Page