The plant Hamamelis vernalis, more commonly known as Witch Hazel, has many practical, ornamental, and aesthetic uses. Because of this, it is widely popular in many countries of the world and its extracts are sought on a large scale by persons in a variety of disciplines (Anderson & Hill, 2002). This research paper will discuss the appearance of the plant through the use of diagrams and descriptive language. It will also provide a brief taxonomic classification of Witch Hazel by identifying the genus, species, and other relevant information concerning the plant. Finally, the paper will also address its usefulness by identifying some of the ways in which persons have found Witch Hazel to be medicinal or other ways through which they have gained aesthetic enjoyment from it.
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Hamamelis vernalis (Seiler et al., 2007) is a species of plant that comes from the genus hamamelis. This species is in fact a sister to three other Witch Hazel species (Hamamelis virginiana, hamamelis japonica, and hamamelis mollis) and these are found in North America (vernalis and virginiana), Japan (japonica) and China (mollis) (Wikipedia, 2007). These present themselves as shrubs or small trees which may attain a height of three (3) to eight (8) meters or on very rare occasions may even get up to 12 meters (2007; Anderson & Hill, 2002). The technical name (hamamelis) can literally be translated as “together with fruit,” and this term aptly describes the plant because its leaves, flowers, buds, and fruit all grow simultaneously and are located collectively at the same spot on the shrub (2002). Witch Hazel begins flowering in late September and on into winter, and therefore it is special in its ability to show bloom despite the fact that its leaves have gone (2002). For this reason it is also known as Winterbloom (Wikipedia, 2007).
The petals on each Witch Hazel flower are shaped like a strap, and each bloom contains four such petals. These petals may grow up to two (2) centimeters in length, and their colors range from pale yellow or orange up the scale to red. The fruit comes in two parts: it presents as a one-centimeter (1 cm) capsule which breaks open and in which are contained two black seeds—one in either part. The breaking of the capsule occurs with great force when the plant matures. This takes place about eight months after the bloom, and the force with which these capsules split is able to fling the tiny seeds up to ten meters away from the plant (Wikipedia, 2007). This activity has given rise to another of its common names: the Snapping Hazel.
The Witch Hazel plant has several functions, both for humans and animals. The larvae for some species of Lepidoptera, such as butterflies and moths, use the plant as food (Wikipedia, 2007). Humans use the leaves and the bark of the plant as an astringent, which help to constrict the pores of the skin. The extract from this plant is therefore put into such substances as aftershave, lotion, and such salves that are placed on bruises and insect bites. It is also used in many of the medicines that are used to treat hemorrhoids (2007). The seeds are oily and may be eaten.
Witch Hazel is also harvested for aesthetic purposes, as the beautiful orange-red flowers, together with the leaves, make attractive ornaments for decorating homes and other spaces. These flowers have also been chosen by many as useful and desirable in garden areas, as their ability to flower during the winter allows these plants to remain attractive while other plants would normally make such a garden bare and sparse (Anderson & Hill, 2002).
The Witch Hazel plant is enjoyed by many persons of several disciplines. Despite the fact that it has a medicinal effect and gives aesthetic pleasure to many, it is also heavily studied by many botanists who wonder at its ability to flower during the harsh conditions of winter. Besides this, its features are very distinctive, with its different parts being located in one place. The value of the plant therefore exists on several levels, and deeper knowledge concerning Witch Hazel will continue to ensure that it always remains a part of the ecosystem.
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