On the list of winter flowering shrubs, is witch-hazel (Hamamelis sp.).
In the US we have two native witch hazels, Hamamelis virginiana and Hamamelis vernalis.
Virginiana starts flowering in October to November.
Vernalis flowers later starting in December. Vernalis also holds onto its leaves.
My witch hazel shown in the photo is vernalis. This photo was taken in the beginning of December while the flowers were at their peak. The flowers didn’t fade until mid January.
Vernalis is also known as Ozark Witch hazel. ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a H. vernalis cultivar.
Asian witch hazels flower later than native American species. They flower late winter and early spring.
There is a Japanese witch hazel, Hamamelis japonica, and Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis hollis. Hamamelis x intermedia is a hybrid between the Japanese and Chinese witch hazel.
There are many cultivars and hybrids of these asian species of with-hazel such as ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Old Copper’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Rubin’, ‘Orange Encore’.
Many of these were bred to flower late winter and early spring. They were also bred for an increase of fragrance, and for other bright colors of yellow, gold, and orange.
The native species of witch hazel, to me, would be the best choice.
However, any witch hazel species can provide nectar and pollen to pollinators when there is a flowerless landscape in fall, winter, and early spring.
This makes them a good choice for the wildlife garden.
Witch hazels also have a nice yellow fall leaf color. It has a smooth, gray colored bark.
Witch hazel Pollination
Since witch hazel flowers in colder months when there are few or no pollinators around, it has a harder time being pollinated.
When there are some warm late fall or early spring days, some pollinators may come out to pollinate them (likely native bees who can tolerate cooler temps than honeybees). There are likely no other flowers out, so the pollinators appreciate them.
There is a species of a winter owlet moth, that is active during cold nights, which has co-evolved with witch hazel. This is how witch hazel has an increased chance of being pollinated and setting seed. This moth has other food sources, so the moth isn’t dependent on witch hazel, but the witch hazel is more dependent on it.