One of the earliest blooming shrubs we have on Cape Cod is this one…
We may come across it in the woods, along an old farm trail or like this one, at a nature sanctuary. They always make me smile and although this year many things have been budding and blooming early, this one is right on time. It will bloom in mid February whether it is snowy or balmy. Many people assume is is an early forsythia and think no more about it but this special shrub was an honored plant in early native cultures as well as colonial ones here in New England.
This is a variety of witch hazel and this early blooming shrub is Hamamelis vernalis, which is easily cultivated. The native witch hazel shrubs bloom in late fall and early winter but most of the ones I’ve seen on the Cape bloom in February with one big exception in Bourne where there is a little grove of native witch hazel. Over the years the bark and twigs have been used to make teas and also cleansing agents to sterilize areas around wounds, etc. Click the link for more uses and information about witch hazel.
This is one plant worth cosying right up to no matter how cold it is outside because it smells just wonderful.
It blossoms for a couple of weeks and then forms some funky seed pods that can actually “toss” their seeds when split open.
If you’re out and about, especially in areas that were once farmland, keep your eyes–and nose–open for a sighting or scenting of this wonderful harbinger of spring.