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Ed Bigelow 


If we should look at the witch-hazel as the last flower of the season, to it we would award the booby prize.  But if we consider it in connection with its braving of the colder weather in an effort to beautify the woods, we would give it the first prize.  No other flower of the year so bravely withstands the cold weather.  It begins to bloom in November, or even a little earlier, and clings persistently to its twigs until the first of January or even later, sprinkling the shades of the woods with its feathery, dainty, golden bloom.  It is said also that it has valuable medicinal qualities.  

 There is also a curious old-time superstition in regard to its uncanny ability as a divining rod.  It is said to be able to point out underground deposits of water and of precious ores.  The myth probably originated from a misunderstanding or a misconstruing of its name.  This is not primarily witch, but wych, which had some relation to a salt spring or dairy house, and was sometimes spelled wick.

No other plant can shoot its seeds so far and so violently as this one hurls its seeds.  I do not know just how far it can shoot, but in experiments a distance of thirty feet has been reached.  The experiment was made in this manner.  The fruiting branches were suspended at the end of a room thirty feet long.  At the extreme far end of the room many seeds were found.  Some had been shot through an open door, but just how far I do not know.  Various other experiments suggest that the seeds may be thrown to a distance of forty feet or more.  The books say that the seed capsule bursts and discharges its contents with great vigor.  It certainly does.  

Experiments with the bursting pods and the flying seeds may be dangerous.  I never happened to be hit by the flying missiles, but I should not like to have one strike my eye, especially if the eye were near the capsule.  The discharge is accompanied by a snap almost like that of a small pistol.  If Scouts repeat this experiment let them not forget this warning.  It is not easy to understand just how the capsule expels its seeds, but the method is probably comparable with the action of the finger and thumb on a seed of an orange or of a watermelon.  The witch-hazel seeds are held much more firmly, and are shot out with far greater violence than would be possible with an orange seed from between the thumb and finger.

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.