It’s Valentine’s Day, so grab your sweetie and head to the Arnold Arboretum for the ultimate in romance: seeing and inhaling the Ozark (or vernal) witch hazels now at peak bloom. Nothing could be more romantic!

Ozark witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, was first described (in 1911) as a species distinct from the well-known and common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) by Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum. The first specimen to arrive (in 1908) and be grown at the Arboretum (6099*D) still thrives next to Rehder Pond. As beautiful as this large shrub is, there is just a barely detectable scent. Head around the corner to the Leitneria wetland where one of the beautiful wood chip paths is lined with winter flowering witch hazels. There you will find an Ozark witch hazel (336-89*B) that will envelope you in a sweet cloud of perfume. (Hot tip: clicking on the accession number will call up a map with location of the plant.) Last, make your way to the Hunnewell Building and the driveway to the garage area. Three Ozark witch hazels are in residence there, but only one that has great scent, accession 18885*A, the named “tomentella” form.

Flowers of Hamamelis vernalis, the Ozark witch hazel, by William (Ned) Friedman
Flowers of Hamamelis vernalis, the Ozark witch hazel.

If you are wondering why witch hazels volatilize organic molecules to generate scents, the answer lies in the need to attract insect pollinators—yup, in the dead of winter, there are still plenty of insects around. Finally, even if you don’t have someone you are sweet on at this particular moment, don’t let that stop you from a visit to the witch hazels at the Arboretum. Just grab a friend or come solo. No matter how grey and chilly it is outside, your spirits will lift when immersed in the fragrant witch hazels.

If you crave more Arnold Arboretum plant images, follow me on Instagram @nedfriedman.