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Witch-Hazel is occasional in central and northern Illinois, but uncommon or absent in southern Illinois. Habitats include mesic typical woodlands and sandy woodlands, savannas and sandy savannas, woodland borders, fore dunes near Lake Michigan, and restored woodlands. Witch-Hazel is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental shrub/tree in yards or along buildings.
This native woody plant is a shrub or small tree up to 20' tall. It is usually abundantly branched and rather bushy in appearance. Witch-Hazel may have a single trunk up to 1' across, or there may be several ascending branches at its base. The trunk and/or larger branches are grey, relatively smooth, and slightly wrinkled. The smaller branches and twigs are grey to reddish brown. The alternate leaves are up to 5" long and 3" across; they are oval to broadly obovate in shape and wavy-toothed along their margins. The upper surface of each leaf is medium to dark green and hairless; the lower surface is pale green and hairless, or pubescent along the major veins of the leaf. The base of the leaf blade is often asymmetrical. The slender petiole of each leaf is up to ¾" long. Small clusters of yellow flowers and brown seed capsules develop along the upper branches and twigs. Each flower has 4 yellow petals, 4 yellow sepals, 4 fertile stamens, and a pair of short styles. The tape-like petals are about ¾" long and linear in the shape; they are often contorted and twisted, rather than straight. The sepals are much smaller in size, broadly triangular, and recurved while the flower is blooming. The stamens are quite short. The blooming period occurs from mid- to late fall for about 3 weeks. This is the last woody plant to bloom during the fall; this usually occurs shortly after its leaves turn yellow and have fallen to the ground. After the flowers have withered away, some of them are replaced by seed capsules that require an entire year to mature. A mature seed capsule resembles a brown woody acorn about 2/3" long; the upper third of this capsule is divided into 4 segments. Inside, each seed capsule has 2 cells; each cell contains a single seed. Mature capsules explode, ejecting the seeds about 10-20 ft. away. This typically occurs during the fall while the flowers are blooming. The seeds are up to ¼" long, ellipsoid, shiny, and black. The root system consists of a woody branching taproot. This woody plant spreads by reseeding itself.
Sources: Witch-hazel - Encyclopedia of Life, http://eol.org/pages/589817/details (accessed January 19, 2017).