Plant of the Week: Jelena Witch Hazel

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

The High Line plays host to several varieties of witch hazel: an autumn-blooming native variety, Hamamelis virginiana, and three hybrid cultivars that bloom in late winter. Hamamelis x intermedia hybrids are crosses between Chinese (H. mollis) and Japanese (H. japonica) witch hazels. This particular cultivar, Jelena, was named after the wife of Belgian botanist Robert de Belder, and is one of two varieties on the High Line that have received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Jelena witch hazel is a deciduous shrub of spreading habit, capable of growing to a size of 13 feet tall and wide. Its broad, dark green leaves turn shades of yellow, orange, and red in autumn. While its attractive fall foliage is reason enough to plant one, Jelena witch hazel truly shines early in the year when it blooms; its showy, orange-red flowers are a welcome sight at winter's end. Traditionally, witch hazels are planted in a woodland-type environment with dappled shade, but they will also flourish in the open, as seen here on the High Line.

Although the common name conjures up images of woodland sorcery, it was likely derived from witch hazel's resemblance to the wych elm (Ulmus glabra) and hazel shrub (Corylus avellana); both familiar plants to English colonists who first encountered Hamamelis virginiana in America.

Witch hazels are uncommon in New York City, but New Yorkers may recognize the name from their medicine cabinet; the bark and leaves of the virginiana variety are used to make an astringent widely used in skincare.


On the High Line between Gansevoort and West 14th Street, and between West 20th and 22nd Street.

Download our March bloom list.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects – become a member of the High Line today!

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