great shrub: spike winterhazel, corylopsis spicata

bumblebee in corylopsisIBOUGHT MYSELF A WINTERHAZEL 25-ISH OR 30 YEARS AGO, around the start of my Zone 5 gardening adventure, fresh in from the warmer city and with a lot to learn in the years of weekend gardening that lay ahead. The image of the massive old ones that grew at Wave Hill in New York City was firmly in my mind’s eye, and I was determined my Corylopsis spicata would be just like that some day: a cloud of yellow. “Some day” would be the operative words; in 2010, it finally was, at about 18 feet across and half as tall.  And apparently I was not alone in that being my glory year.


corylopsis and magnolia 2The spike winterhazel (as C. spicata is known) is one member of this genus of witchhazel relatives that should be better grown, I think, even if their extra-early flowers can be iffy here in Zone 5B. That gets it listed in many places as Zone 6-8, though it’s otherwise hardy to 5. I

never really minded, because what followed the sometimes-half-strength bloom were pleated, bluish-green leaves (details in in the slideshow, below) so beautiful I never tired of them.  And the plant’s structure, a slightly chaotic, outstretched tangle of delightfully crooked arms, pleased me all winter long. (That’s mine on the far left in the photo above, to show scale and shape, looking down the front path.)

magnolia and corylopsis 2011But then came the spring of 2010, the jubilee. As the bloggers in Southwest England at the Hegarty Webber Partnership garden design site will tell you, too, there was something going on that year with winterhazel. (I was happy for such company in that fine moment, and to “meet” them.) Their 20-something-year-old plant went positively mad, too. Synchronicity!

Grow winterhazels in sun or part shade, in moist but well-drained soil, and if you’re pushing it (as I am) with the tassel-like flowers, offer a site that gives protection from winter winds that could kill some of those precious buds.

There are other good garden species, notably C. pauciflora (the buttercup winterhazel, Zone 6-8) and C. glabrescens (the hardiest, supposedly, Zone 5-8), and so on, but I’m a spicata girl through and through.

corylopsis spicata aureaSo much so that in this year of the winterhazel I treated myself to the gold-leaf form, C. spicata ‘Aurea,’ above, sometimes labeled ‘Gold Spring,’ and I have to say when the box arrived I could almost see it glowing right through the corrugated walls. Happy days.

[Update 2017: I succumbed to a pauciflora at a plant sale late 2016 and so far, so good. I stand corrected in my earlier spicata-only leanings!]

Click on the first thumbnail, then toggle from slide to slide using the arrows beside the captions. Enjoy!

Corylopsis mail-order sources:

  1. kathy says:

    I bought one at the NY Botanical Garden a few weeks ago. Couldn’t resist , it was in full bloom. I could see it from the entrance gate. Now I’m really running out of room.

  2. Brian G. says:

    I also bought ‘Aurea’ from Fairweather Gardens this spring as well as a few of their other gold leafed (and twigged) offerings. When it arrived I was excited to see it was already covered with flowers. The following weekend i discovered all the blooms had been killed by frost but the leaves are very beautiful. I hope I don’t have to wait 20 years to see it in bloom again!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Window On the Prairie. Sounds like you have got the gardening bug. :) I am excited at this time of year, too; cannot control my enthusiasm…well, except when temps promised to go below 32 and then to 80 in a day or two. Ugh. Hope to see you soon again; enjoy your first year of bloom with the new babies.

  3. Debbie @ GardenofPossibilities says:

    I bought one last spring at a local plant sale and anxiously awaited the bloom this spring. The flowers are the softest color of yellow making them seem even more delicate than they are. I can’t wait for mine to be tall enough to stand under so I can see the flowers nodding down at me.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Debbie. Mine (even at this age) is so horizontal that only the center stems go upward….all the rest go sideways. I have lie on the ground to look up at it. :) Delicate and wonderful; enjoy. And visit us again soon.

  4. Janel says:

    Okay, you must stop this! Every time you focus on one of these shrubs I have to add it to the towering stack of “must haves.” Please, stop — I can’t help myself, you have to help me!

  5. Peterpepper says:

    Slightly east of topic: I bought a witch hazel two years back (Hamamelis something) and couldn’t place it properly; it dried in its blown-over pot until a warm nor’easter in December ripped out an old apple tree roots and all, leaving a … hole! So in went the witch hazel, where it’s thrived. I kept expecting yellowyellowyellow in February but instead got silky maroon. Followed by, um, yellow. It’s going to make it, but I don’t know what it is. Somewhat related: I was happy to find out that my otherworldly fothergilla is more happily known as witch alder.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Peterpepper. Could it be the cultivar ‘Diane’? Look at the picture of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ here. (There is also an orange one called ‘Jelena,’ and various yellow hybrids and species, but I wonder if you got ‘Diane’ perhaps? Have a look… My fothergillas are in full glosry now, though w/the heat here this spring they will go fast. Love them. See you soon.

  6. Peterpepper says:

    Could be. Pretty name, for sure. Beats my guess: H. homedepotis.
    I’m trying a Tuscarora crape myrtle in front of a kitchen window, although Long Island is said to be a zone past it. But we’re getting hotter each year. Any suggestions?

  7. Marilyn says:

    My C. spicata bloomed for the first time very early this spring (bought and planted it late last spring), but the bloom didn’t last very long. I was a bit disappointed. Is 3 days all you usually get?

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