By Greg Lecker
It’s cold but breaks of sun offer a promise of warmth. Between the Ordway Shelter and Green Heron Pond, a bit of warmth attracts my attention. The sun glows within a clump of witch hazel. I approach to study the shrub border.
Witch hazel is a large rounded native shrub with clean yellow fall foliage. The name hazel refers to the nuts and leaves that resemble Hazel family members. The name witch has numerous possible origins. “Wicke” is Middle English for “lively” & “wych” is an old Anglo-Saxon word for “bend.” It’s possible that American pilgrims thought it “lively” for its winter blooms and for the way that its seeds open and are projected outward. The meaning “bent” could have referred to the zigzagging twigs & limbs that offer winter interest to the understory of woodlands.
A more interesting theory associates witch hazel with water dowsing or divining. The shrub may have been dubbed Wicke Hazel by pilgrims because the dowsing end of a plant’s forked limb reportedly became “lively” & bent downward when the dowser (later called “water witch”) carried it over ground with water beneath.
Witch Hazel Seed Pods
The fruit of witch hazel bursts open with an audible “snap” to cast shiny black seeds a considerable distance, as far as ten or twenty feet. Birds further disperse seeds.
Walking around Green Heron Pond, I find that it has frozen over. A canoe waits for future use.
The sky has clouded over – and yet I spot what appears to be sun shining on the snowy path. It turns out to be fallen needles of a tamarack tree.
A Patch of “Sun”
Tamarack is among my favorite trees – largely because it is so unexpected. It is a conifer – it bears cones and needles. And yet, it sheds those needles – bravely embracing winter without a “coat”.
Tamarack Cone and Needles”
A truck laden with bales of hay or straw descends the drive and parks at the Sensory Garden. I expect that flower beds are being prepared for the winter. The day turns colder than I had expected; and I leave. I look forward to future sun if not warmth.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.