With their similar common names and some similar characteristics, winter hazel and witch hazel can be easy to confuse. Here are the differences between these treasured shrubs that flower when little else is in bloom.
Witch hazels are Hamamelis.
Winter hazels are Corylopsis.
Size and shape:
Witch hazels grow between 10 and 20 feet tall and most have a vase shape with upright or arching branches.
Winter hazels are generally smaller, growing 4 to 10 feet tall depending on species, with a rounded shape.
Witch hazel blooms between late fall and earliest spring, depending on the species.
Winter hazel blooms in late winter.
Witch hazel flowers have numerous long, skinny petals that make them look overall like a spider or firework; these are most pronounced on the Hamamelis xintermedia varieties. Witch hazel flowers can be yellow, orange, red or purple. Witch hazel flowers have a spicy fragrance that is strongest on H. virginiana and H. vernalis.
Winter hazels have yellow flowers with a sweet fragrance. Winter hazel flowers have a bell shape and hang downward.
Witch hazels are native to Asia and North America. Hamamelis virginiana and H. vernalis are native to portions of the eastern United States. The popular hybrid witch hazels (H. xintermedia cultivars) are crosses between two Asian species.
Winter hazels are native to Asia.
Top: Hamamelis xintermedia ‘Pallida’ by I, KENPEI, CC BY-SA 3.0
Bottom: Corylopsis spicata by Yoko Nekonomania, CC BY 2.0