It's 25 degrees outside

with 10 mph wind gusts and spitting snow. So what do I do? I decide to go out and see if I can find an Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) in bloom. It’s times like this that I sometimes question my sanity! 🙂

Usually found in gravely or rocky stream banks, often in the water, Hamamelis vernalis is a small shrub that can reach 10′ in height and occurs only in the Ozarks.

With flowers that appear as early as January, it is the first woody plant to bloom in the Ozarks. There is a second species of Hamamelis, the Eastern Witch Hazel (H. virginiana,) that also occurs in the Ozarks but in a much more restricted area. Ironically H. virginiana is the last woody plant to bloom in the Ozarks, with flowers appearing in October through December.

Unfortunately, I checked the two populations of H. vernalis that I was confident of finding – a single plant just downstream of the M Highway bridge across Mill Creek and several trees scattered along Chilton Creek above and below the first creek crossing near Pin Oak – and found not a single flower. 🙁 Truthfully, I’m not entirely convinced that I even found an actual Witch Hazel since I’m not very good at identifying trees and shrubs when no leaves are present. Assuming that I did find the right plant, I’m guessing that they have already bloomed. If I get a chance, I’ll check them again next weekend.

But it wasn’t a completely unproductive trip. I found a small patch of Hazelnut (Corylus americana) at the base of a bluff near Waymeyer that had male catkins dangling from its limbs.

C. americana is monoecious (each plant has both male and female reproductive units) and I think this is a female catkin.

I don’t think these catkins are fully open yet so that’s something else I need to check on again next weekend. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the catkins emerge in the fall and overwinter on the plant but I haven’t been able to confirm that. I can confirm that the nuts, which form from the female catkins and ripen in late July and August, are quite yummy if you can beat the squirrels to them.

Update 2-20-2010: According to the Missouri Botanical Garden website, the catkins appear in the spring – no mention of overwintering.

There was a large Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) growing in the edge of the field along Chilton Creek.

The thorns are thought to have evolved during the Pleistocene as protection against the overly large browsers that roamed the land at the time. I can also tell you that Honey Locusts are favored nesting trees for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. I’d estimate that 80-90% of the Gnatcatcher nests I’ve seen have been in Locusts and no wonder. Those thorns would keep just about any climbing predator at bay except maybe a very careful snake.


Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri
Don Kurz – 1997 – Missouri Department of Conservation

The Witch Hazels
Journal of the New York Botanical Garden, Volume 23, Number 266, February, 1922

Trees and shrubs, Volume 2, Parts 1-3
Charles Sargent, Charles Faxon, Arnold Arboretum – 1901 – Houghton- Mifflin

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