It is late October and woodlands and the colorful autumn leaves are littering the ground. The woodlands are beginning to look barren as winter approaches. It is at this time that a shrub blooms providing some color to the barren landscape. It has many small spindly yellow flowers on branches devoid of leaves. It is witch hazel.
This large shrub grows where there is acidic, sandy soils in the eastern U.S. from Maine to Florida. It is a food plant of the spring azure butterfly and birds eat the seed capsules produced by the flower.
Native Americans used a forked branch of this plant as a divining rod to find underground water. Its twigs and branches were boiled to make a medicinal brew called witch hazel which was used for several ailments.
Its flowers are a welcome sight in the late fall landscape, but it is a harbinger of the arrival of winter with cold temperatures and snow.