Winter Hazel

April 1, 2021

Two girls discover

the secret of life

in a sudden line of


              -Denise Levertov

Of all of the various secrets of life, one might include taking pause to observe spring’s cornucopia of floral wonder and beauty. April annually allows aficionados to follow a reliable botanical progression of blossoms. A visual cusp of spring beginning in early April then will transform to a landscape loaded with flowers by time of the month’s end. This predictable pushing forward partially includes early nodding, groundcover of hellebores and inconspicuous overhead flowers of American elms, both easy to walk past unseen. Other horticultural highlights might stop you in your tracks like blue sweeps of scilla, sometimes contrasted beneath the wispy yellow flowers of cornelian cherry. More conventional yellow follows with forsythia. By the month’s full pink moon Mount Auburn’s many ornamental magnolias, cherries and shads will have confirmed to any lingering spring-arrival skeptics we have indeed survived through yet another winter.

Corylopsis, winter hazel

There were so many days that I was given.

But whether of this spring or that? They merge

as traveling clouds across my permanent heaven…

              -Vita Sackville-West

April is also the month to watch for the flowers within the genus Corylopsis, winter hazel, which allow for a botanical bridge from winter into spring. March’s solstice has not prevented snow from falling on runners in five different years of the Boston Marathon (1907, ’08, ’25, ’61, ’67) or Red Sox home games being called off due to snow (April 8th and 10th, 1996) so this common name is apropos.

Corylopsis, winter hazel

Plan a visit to Hazel Path Woodland Sanctuary, our newest landscape improvement improvement, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, where you may find several different species of winter hazel, each shrub with fragrant yellow flowers. Peers and I recall first learning of winter hazels or any woody plant new to us thinking, “What does Dirr say?” We turned to inimitable plantsman Michael Dirr, author of many books.  From within his authoritative Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, “…when forgiven by the vagaries of late winter-early spring, they bring a magnificent presence to the landscape…at the top of my list as an early flowering shrub…”.

At Hazel Path you may find several disparate species, all native to Asia, an assemblage of botanical kinswomen, all flowering before their leaves emerge. There is Corylopsis glabrescens, fragrant winter hazel, capable of growing 8-15 feet, the tallest and most cold hardy species. The buttercup winter hazel, C. pauciflora, usually less than 6-feet is the smallest and daintiest. The spike winter hazel, C. spicata, grows 4-8 feet, often with a wider spreading habit. All as Dirr extols, “…in full flower they are as beautiful as any plant that could grace a garden.”

In conjunction with all of these winter hazels, Hazel Path grows other cousins within the botanical family HAMAMELIDACEAE. Here you may also find common witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, flowering in autumn and ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel, Hamamelis xintermedia ‘Arnold Promise, flowering in March/April, among other types of witch hazels. Also from this family planted hereare Persian ironwood, Parrotia persica, which produce notable autumn foliage and as they age develop handsome exfoliating multi-colored bark.

Corylopsis, winter hazel

The etymology of Corylopsis is Greek, korylos means hazelnut and opsis means resembling, hence resembling hazelnut. Appropriately Hazel Path also grows hazelnuts, members of the genus Corylus which are classified in the BETULACEAE, the birch family, which we will leave for discussion at another time.

We hope your future allows an on-site exploration of the Hazel Path Woodland Sanctuary whether while the winter hazels are in bloom or any other time throughout the year.

Below are some additional photos of Hazel Path featuring witch hazel and daffodils.

About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →


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