Flower of the Day: Witch Hazel

Hamamelis virginiana; Hamamelidaceae (witch hazel family)


Witch hazel is a large shrub or small tree that grows in the understory of hardwood forests in eastern North America.  It’s one of the last – maybe the last – plants to bloom in this area.  The flowers can persist through early winter, long after the leaves have fallen, and have an unusual odor that I find hard to describe.  It makes me think of my grandfather.

I know witch hazel is in the Potomac gorge area, but I took these pictures on the Riprap Hollow trail in southern Shenandoah National Park a few days ago.  I would like to have taken pictures of a whole tree, but the nature of the trail, and a gusty wind as a cold front started moving in, made that impossible.

While researching I tripped across this great article in The Atlantic.   And another interesting article in the New York Times._DSC0160

Flower of the Day: Short’s Aster

Symphyotrichum shortii; Asteraceae (aster family)


Some things to consider when trying to identify asters:

  • size of flower head
  • number of ray flowers
  • number of disk flowers
  • color of flowers (not as important as you may think)
  • shape and size of leaf, including the leaf base and leaf tip
  • leaf margin
  • arrangement of leaves on the stem and whether they’re more or less consistently sized
  • shape, size, color, and number of rows of phyllaries (bracts)
  • presence of glands
  • smoothness (or not) and color of stems

…you get the idea.  Actually this is a pretty general list, but with almost 90 species of Symphyotrichum found in the US (about two dozen in this area), you really have to pay attention to details.

All of which is to say, I’m not always sure I’ve correctly id’d all the asters I’ve been posting about.  But they sure are pretty.