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Witch Hazel Pollinators

October through mid-November is the typical flowering time for Witch Hazel. The last of the blossoms of this fall-blooming shrub can still be seen in parts of the Northeast. Its long, bright-yellow petals and the presence of a sweet-smelling nectar tell you that Witch Hazel flowers are pollinated by insects.  However, there are very few insects present this late in the year and its pollinators have been elusive to the human eye. With the exception of syrphid, or hover, flies, I have never seen any insects visiting these flowers. 

It turns out that I was observing them at the wrong time of day. Naturalist Bernd Heinrich discovered that a group of owlet moths called winter moths are active on cold nights and regularly visit Witch Hazel.  These moths have the ability to heat themselves by using energy to shiver, raising their body temperatures by as much as 50 degrees in order to fly in search of food. Solved is the mystery of what pollinating insects are still active this late in the year!

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8 responses

  1. Dianne C Jewett

    Thanks, I have often wondered about this. So happy to have the solution.

    November 30, 2020 at 9:06 am

  2. Alice

    Witch hazel is so pretty in the woods & I love pointing it out to whomever I’m walking with, as well as the umbrella shaped branches. Haven’t seen any winter moths. Thankfully.

    November 30, 2020 at 9:12 am

  3. Lin Peyton

    I use to hang a sheet on the outside wall of our house with a light shining on the sheet at night and would get up at various hours during the night to check on the moths that landed on the sheet. Wonderful owlet moths and silk moths among others. a Great habit while work days got a bit tense…

    November 30, 2020 at 9:29 am

  4. Bill on the Hill

    Not forgetting the topical qualities of this amazing plant as I am looking at a bottle of T.N. Dickinson’s ” Witch Hazel ” right this moment… As an astringent, there simply is no better than this wonderful product, made in East Hampton, CT…
    I use it, my daughter uses it, my mother used it & my grandmother used it & I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised that my Great Grandmother used it too!
    Bill… :~)

    November 30, 2020 at 9:30 am

  5. Barbara Hager

    I’ll bet you never heard of this! Thanks for the lovely evening. Afterwards I felt very sad that I hadn’t actually had a conversation with Zee. She’s so elusive, but I’m sure she has a lot to reflect upon. Drat this Covid, I need to get Zee somewhere for coffee or food to see if she would open up a bit. Likewise with Noah. It’s one of the real sadnesses of my life that I haven’t been closer to your talented and smart progeny.


    November 30, 2020 at 3:23 pm

  6. Lin Peyton

    For several years I left a sheet hanging outside under a light at night and collected (only to photograph) all sorts of nocturnal moths in all seasons; Great Fun, though not much sleep on those nights…

    November 30, 2020 at 8:34 pm

  7. Ruth van Doren

    I’m trying to make donation but get message that URL is not supported. Help? Thanks Ruthie

    December 1, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    • Hi Ruth,
      Thank you so much. I’m sorry that you’re having trouble with the site. If you wish, you can send a check made out to me to 505 Wake Robin Drive, Shelburne, VT 05482. I greatly appreciate it! Mary

      December 2, 2020 at 7:02 pm

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