Hamamelis virginiana - L.
American Witch-hazel
Other English Common Names: Witch-hazel
Other Common Names: American witch-hazel
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Hamamelis virginiana L. (TSN 19033)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.128564
Element Code: PDHAM02020
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Other flowering plants
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Dicotyledoneae Hamamelidales Hamamelidaceae Hamamelis
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Hamamelis virginiana
Taxonomic Comments: The genus is considered distinct; this is the commonest North American species, with another (flowering in spring) in the Ozark region and Texas, and a few other species in Asia.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 13May2016
Global Status Last Changed: 11Oct1983
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Widespread and abundant understory tree or shrub in a variety of deciduous forest habitats in the eastern United States and adjacent southernmost Canada. While there is some collecting of branches, bark, and/or foliage for medicinal uses, particularly in northwestern Connecticut, the overall impact of this activity on such an abundant plant is apparently having no reported long-term effects on its abundance and genetic diversity, particularly since most collecting is by repeated harvest of new growth from the same rootstocks.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (10Oct2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNR), Arkansas (SNR), Connecticut (SNR), Delaware (S5), District of Columbia (SNR), Florida (SNR), Georgia (S5), Illinois (SNR), Indiana (SNR), Iowa (S3), Kentucky (S5), Louisiana (SNR), Maine (SNR), Maryland (SNR), Massachusetts (SNR), Michigan (SNR), Minnesota (S2), Mississippi (SNR), Missouri (S4), New Hampshire (SNR), New Jersey (S5), New York (S5), North Carolina (S5), Ohio (SNR), Oklahoma (S2), Pennsylvania (S5), Rhode Island (SNR), South Carolina (SNR), Tennessee (SNR), Texas (SNR), Vermont (SNR), Virginia (S5), West Virginia (S5), Wisconsin (SNR)
Canada New Brunswick (S4), Nova Scotia (S5), Ontario (S4S5), Prince Edward Island (S1), Quebec (S3)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Eastern North America, from New England and southern Quebec west to Iowa, Missouri, and Texas (Kartesz 1999). The species is considered rare and of local conservation concern only in Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Prince Edward Island, all areas on the periphery of its range.

Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Hundreds to thousands of populations are extant rangewide, depending on definition of "population." The state most pertinent to this assessment is Connecticut, where most harvesting for the medicinal trade reportedly occurs (cf. Foster 1999). The Connecticut Natural Diversity Database is not concerned about these impacts, and does not monitor occurrences of witch-hazel in their state (Nancy Murray pers. comm.). In Connecticut, there are at least hundreds of populations, depending on definitions.

Population Size Comments: If populations are taken broadly (e.g., collectively along river corridors such as the Potomac), then a population can number in the thousands if not millions of individual trees, or clumps of closely spaced trees or shrubby stems presumably descended from a single seed.

Reportedly can be locally quite abundant, for example in northern Indiana, where "in some localities it forms thickets extending over acres, especially in sandy black oak woods" (Deam 1932). The species is considered rare and of local conservation concern only in Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Prince Edward Island, all areas on the periphery of its range.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: A reliable source indicates that the species is wild-collected for the plant trade in northwestern Connecticut. Foster (1999) notes "much of the harvest still comes from the woods of northwestern Connecticut, where landowners contract directly with the distiller. Harvest begins in the autumn. Branches are cut to the ground, but resprout, providing a new harvest in a few years." An older account (Hill 1952) states that the source of supply was "chiefly from the southern Appalachians." In the 19th century, the industry (Pond's Extract) was based in New York before moving to Connecticut (Lloyd and Lloyd 1932).

Commercial production of witch-hazel distillate is reported, without cited basis, by one source (women.com 2000) to exceed a million gallons a year. Commercial distillation commonly utilizes the entire above-ground portion of the plant, harvested after the leaves drop (Foster 1999). Dried leaves and dried bark are also marketed for producers of other products as well as retail sale for home use; quantities involved are presumed minor compared to the distillation industry's needs. Duke (1993) is not aware of artificial synthesis of witch-hazel.

A person knowledgable about the herbal medicinal industry estimates that 60,000 pounds of leaf and bark is in trade per year, but it is uncertain whether this figure includes the more traditional drug-store market that constitutes a large fraction of the usage of this species (McGuffin pers. comm.).

As with most widespread plants of the eastern deciduous forest, habitat continues to be lost to agriculture, development, transportation and utility corridors, and other land-use changes, as well as displacement of witch-hazel in many forests by Eurasian honeysuckles and other invasive alien shrubs.

Short-term Trend: Relatively Stable (<=10% change)
Short-term Trend Comments: Stable at present, but historically declined compared to presettlement conditions due to land-use changes.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Distribution
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Global Range: Eastern North America, from New England and southern Quebec west to Iowa, Missouri, and Texas (Kartesz 1999). The species is considered rare and of local conservation concern only in Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Prince Edward Island, all areas on the periphery of its range.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, FL, GA, IA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, WV
Canada NB, NS, ON, PE, QC

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
MN Chisago (27025), Fillmore (27045), Houston (27055), Winona (27169)
MO Barry (29009), Iron (29093)*, Ozark (29153)*, Reynolds (29179)*, Wayne (29223)
OK Le Flore (40079), McCurtain (40089), Pushmataha (40127)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
07 Lower St. Croix (07030005)+, Buffalo-Whitewater (07040003)+, La Crosse-Pine (07040006)+, Root (07040008)+, Coon-Yellow (07060001)+
08 Upper St. Francis (08020202)+
11 James (11010002)+, Bull Shoals Lake (11010003)+*, Upper Black (11010007)+*, Poteau (11110105)+, Kiamichi (11140105)+, Upper Little (11140107)+, Mountain Fork (11140108)+, Lower Little (11140109)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A small tree or large shrub, usually under 20 feet high, with wavy-edged asymmetrical simple leaves, narrow-petaled yellow flowers that bloom in late fall or early winter, and dry fruit capsules that open explosively in fall to eject small, hard seeds.
Ecology Comments: Long-lived, clone-forming perennial shrub or small tree capable of resprouting after cutting. The plant often spreads by rootstocks that grow new aerial stems. The species grows slowly, and after reaching a height of about 10 feet, the plant often projects almost all new growth in a lateral direction. Fruits take almost a year to mature; the 1-2 seeds per capsule are ejected a modest distance from the parental plants (Stokes circa 1981, Werthner 1935, Foster 1999). [Seed dispersal estimates vary. Stokes states 5-10 feet, while Werthner demonstrated dispersal exceeding 30 feet in an indoor setting.]
Habitat Comments: Sparse to locally abundant in a variety of upland and lowland habitats, including dry to most woods, ravine slopes, floodplains, and streambanks, as well as roadsides and fencerows.
Economic Attributes
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Economically Important Genus: Y
Commercial Importance: Major cash crop
Economic Uses: MEDICINE/DRUG, INDUSTRIAL/CHEMICAL USE/PRODUCT
Production Method: Cultivated, Wild-harvested
Economic Comments: The foliage, twigs, and bark of witch-hazel plants contain flavonoids and tannins (especially hamamelin and hamamelitannin) and proanthocyanidins, as well as volatile oils (Duke 1993, Foster 1999). Various preparations or extracts of witch-hazel have been used traditionally as an astringent, anti-inflammatory skin cleanser, linament, aftershave, and soother of diverse skin infections and irritations. In North America, witch-hazel is most commonly marketed as "Aqua hamamelis" or "double-distilled witch-hazel extract" which is steam distilled, then redistilled for purification, with alcohol added as a preservative (to 14% net alcohol content). This formula was long held as a trade secret by the family of the Reverend T.N. Dickinson of Essex, Connecticut.; Dickinson's is still one of the three major distillers. This commercial distillation commonly utilizes the entire above-ground portion of the plant, harvested after the leaves drop (Foster 1999). Dried leaves and dried bark are also marketed for producers of other products as well as retail sale for home use; quantities involved are presumed minor compared to the distillation industry's needs. It is worth noting that several writers (e.g., Foster 1999) consider the tannins and water-insoluble substances to be the principal medicinally active ingredients in witch-hazel bark and leaves; these are essentially lacking in the steam-distilled product, the most widely used (and most highly acclaimed) witch-hazel product in North America. (However, in Europe, Foster (1999) notes that a water-alcohol extract is more commonly used; this would include the tannins and various other active ingredients.) Apparently, only the species Hamamelis virginiana has substantial commercial use. Duke (1993) is not aware of artificial synthesis of witch-hazel.

Prices for this species were found as follows:

U.S., internet: $20/lb dry bark, $4.19/oz dry leaf

Management Summary Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Jan2000
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Larry Morse (1/00); rev. Eric Nielsen (1/00)
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 21Jan2000
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): MORSE, L.E.

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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  • Coffin, B., and L. Pfannmuller, editors. 1988. Minnesota's endangered flora and fauna. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 473 pp.

  • Darbyshire, S., and H.L. Dickson. 1980. Witch-hazel in the Ottawa area. Trail & Landscape 14(5): 158-160.

  • De Steven, D. 1983. Reproductive consequences of insect seed predation in Hamamelis virginiana. Ecology 64:89-98.

  • Deam, C. C. 1932. Shrubs of Indiana. 2nd ed. Indiana Dept. Conservation, Div. Forestry. Indianapolis.

  • Deam, C. C. 1940. Flora of Indiana. Division of Forestry, Dept. of Conservation, Indianapolis, Indiana. 1236 pp.

  • Duke, J.A. 1993. Medicinal plants and the pharmaceutical industry. In: Janick, J., and J.E. Simon (eds.). New Crops. Wiley, New York.

  • Duke, J.A. 2000. Dr. Duke's phytochemical and ethnobotanical databases: Chemicals and their biological activities. Hamamelis virginiana L. (Hamamelidaceae) - Witch hazel. Online. Available: http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/duke/farmacy2.pl. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • Flint, F. F. 1957. Megasporogenesis and megagametogenesis in Hamamelis virginiana L. Virginia Journal of Science 8:185-89.

  • Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 1997. Flora of North America north of Mexico. Vol. 3. Magnoliophyta: Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae. Oxford Univ. Press, New York. xxiii + 590 pp.

  • Foster, S. 1999. Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana. Online. Available: http://. Accessed 2000-Jan.

  • Fox, W.S. and J.H. Soper. 1953. The Distribution of some trees and shrubs of the Carolinian Zone of Southern Ontario. Part 2. Transactions of the Royal Canadian Institute 30(Part 1): 3-32.

  • Fulling, E. H. 1953. American witch hazel: history, nomenclature and modern utilization. Economic Botany 7:359-381.

  • Gaut, P. C., and J. N. Roberts. 1984. Hamamelis seed germination. Plant Propagation 34:334-342.

  • Hicks, D. J., and D. L. Hustin. 1989. Response of Hamamelis virginiana L. to canopy gaps in a Pennsylvania oak forest. American Midland Naturalist 121:200-204.

  • Hill, A.F. 1952. Economic Botany, 2nd edition. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York. 560 pp.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1996. Species distribution data at state and province level for vascular plant taxa of the United States, Canada, and Greenland (accepted records), from unpublished data files at the North Carolina Botanical Garden, December, 1996.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1999. A synonymized checklist and atlas with biological attributes for the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. First edition. In: Kartesz, J.T., and C.A. Meacham. Synthesis of the North American Flora, Version 1.0. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, N.C.

  • Lloyd, J.U., and J.T. Lloyd. 1932. History of Hamamelis (witch hazel) extract and distillate. Journal American Pharmaceutical Association 24 (3). Online. Available: http://www.chili.rt66.com/hrbmoore/ManualsOther/Hamamelis.tx t. Accessed 1999-Nov.

  • Meyer, F. G. 1997. Hamamelis. Pages 363-365 in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, editors. Flora of North America north of Mexico. Volume 3. Oxford University Press, New York, New York.

  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Ecological Resources. 2008. Rare species guide: an online encyclopedia of Minnesota's rare native plants and animals [Web Application]. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Accessed 1 July 2009.

  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2005. Field guide to the native plant communities of Minnesota: the eastern broadleaf forest province. Ecological Land Classification Program, Minnesota County Biological Survey, and Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota. 394 pp.

  • Ownbey, G. B., and W. R. Smith. 1988. New and noteworthy plant records for Minnesota. Rhodora 90:369-377.

  • Smith, W. R. 2008. Trees and shrubs of Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 703 pp.

  • Soper, J.H. and M.L. Heimburger. 1982. Shrubs of Ontario. Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. 495 pp.

  • Stokes, D. 1981. The Natural History of Wild Shrubs and Vines: Eastern and Central North America. The Globe Pequot Press.

  • Swink, F., and G. Wilhelm. 1994. Plants of the Chicago Region. Morton Arboretum. Lisle, Illinois.

  • Weakley, Alan S.  2015.  Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States.  Unpublished mss. available as .pdf from the Herbarium, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  1320 pp.

  • Werthner, W. B. 1935. Some American trees: An intimate study of native Ohio trees. MacMillan, New York.

  • Women.com. 2000. Herbal remedies: Witch hazel. Online. Available: http://www.healthyideas.com/healingherb/rem/witchhaz.htm. Accessed 2000-Jan.

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