Witch Hazel vs. Forsythia

Written by Em Casalena
Updated: January 24, 2023
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Hamamelis virginiana, commonly known as witch hazel, and forsythia suspensa, commonly known as forsythia, are two beautiful and somewhat similar plants. However, some key differences between witch hazel vs. forsythia are worth knowing if you plan to use either plant for landscaping, as indoor plants, or even for medicinal uses.

Witch Hazel vs. Forsythia

Witch HazelForsythia
ClassificationHamamelis virginianaForsythia suspensa
Alternative NamesCommon Witch HazelGolden Bell
OriginEastern North AmericaEastern Europe and Eastern Asia
DescriptionA large American shrub with bright yellow flowers. Can grow up to 30 feet tall in native habitat.A large deciduous shrub that can grow up to 10 feet in width and height. The blooms of this shrub are bright yellow and the leaves are small and sparse.
UsesOften grown for shrub borders.Used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory treatment. Also used for decoration.
Growth TipsPlant in full or partial sunlight. Grows well in moist soils, but is very tolerant of most soil types.Plant in full or partial sun. Grows well in moist but well-drained soil that is either neutral or acidic.
Interesting FeaturesBoasts an unusually round shape with foliage that can strength up to 25 feet wide.Part of the olive tree family. Notoriously low-maintenance and fast-growing.

Key Differences Between Witch Hazel and Forsythia

The colorful forsythia plant is native to Asia and first emerged in European gardens in the middle of the 19th century.

The colorful forsythia plant is native to Asia and first emerged in European gardens in the middle of the 19th century.

©iStock.com/Cristina Ionescu

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Witch hazel is native to eastern North America, and the colorful shrub of the forsythia plant is native to eastern Europe all the way to eastern Asia. Forsythia boasts bright yellow flowers that take over the entire plant, while witch hazel blooms modest reddish-purple flowers. However, witch hazel has many varieties, some of which have yellow flowers similar to forsythia.

Witch hazel has many therapeutic and medical uses in the United States, while forsythia suspensa is used in traditional Chinese medicine. Though, it’s worth noting that forsythia is used for decoration more than anything.

The witch hazel plant has a similar appearance to the forsythia plant, but instead of having long, drooping shoots, they are attractive, upright, colorful shrubs that resemble miniature trees. Although both colorful shrubs grow extremely large and flower before foliage grows, people often mistake witch hazel for an overachieving forsythia plant. It is conceivable that a passerby would mistake a witch hazel plant for a forsythia from a distance given that many common witch hazels can have yellow blossoms similar to forsythias. But as you approach closer to a witch hazel plant, you can see the difference. Unlike forsythia blossoms, witch hazel flowers are narrower and resemble clusters of thin ribbons. Additionally, they last longer and have a sweeter fragrance.

Witch Hazel vs. Forsythia: Description

Forsythia is a fast-growing, low-maintenance shrub that blooms in the early spring with showy, bell-shaped yellow flowers.

Forsythia is a fast-growing, low-maintenance shrub that blooms in the early spring with showy, bell-shaped yellow flowers.

©iStock.com/Zhanna Kavaliova

Forsythia is a deciduous shrub that blooms from late winter to early spring with bell-shaped flowers that range in color from creamy to bright yellow. Full light is ideal for forsythia growth, however, it may tolerate partial sun with lessening flowering. Although forsythia is quite adaptable to various soil types, it thrives in moist, well-draining soil. This plant can grow anywhere from 6 to 10 feet tall.

When fully grown, the deciduous shrub known as witch hazel can readily grow to be 10 to 20 feet tall and wide. Witch Hazel can bloom from December to April, depending on the type or variation. Its fragrant, fringe-like blossoms are available in red, yellow, or orange. Witch hazel enjoys slightly acidic soils amended with compost, morning sun, midday shade, and shadow. Since it cannot withstand drought, make sure to mulch the base to keep moisture in and to deeply water as needed.

Witch Hazel vs. Forsythia: Uses

Witch hazel is a tall plant that can bloom from December to April depending on the variety!

Witch hazel is a tall plant that can bloom from December to April depending on the variety!

©iStock.com/odluap

Traditionally, witch hazel extract is a traditional treatment for reducing edema. Many cultures use it to reduce swelling and itching brought on by insect bites or poison ivy rashes. Due to its mild, spicy scent, it is also frequently used as a fragrance and to treat bruises, scrapes, and acne. It is also a component of many types of after-shave lotions and facial toners. In terms of landscaping, witch hazel is used for making privacy screens and hedges. It features lovely bright green leaves that turn yellow in the fall, as well as a smooth gray bark.

Similarly, forsythia is used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory ingredient. However, forsythia isn’t used medicinally very often in the United States, and better serves as a decorative shrub.

Origin and How to Grow

Witch Hazel

In the Appalachian Mountains, where it often grows along streams and on north-facing slopes, witch hazel is a native plant of the eastern forests that stretch from east Texas to Canada. Originating in Asia, forsythia is a member of the olive family and first emerged in European gardens in the middle of the 19th century. Around the period of World War I, American hybrids were created, and various species may now be found flourishing throughout the country.

The witch hazel plant is incredibly resilient. Witch hazel, unlike most flowering plants, needs chilly temperatures to develop its striking yellow blossoms. Because of this, these plants stand out dramatically in a sparkling winter scene. Although the blossoms of witch hazel plants are not as spectacular as those of some other plants, they have an outstanding scent. Once established, witch hazel is a very low-maintenance plant. Only the occasional watering and pruning are necessary. For optimal results, plant this shrub in late fall or early spring. Though in extremely hot climates some afternoon shade will be helpful, a sunny site is best. Witch hazel plants thrive in full to partial sun. Although they enjoy full sun, hot regions with strong afternoon sun are ideal for partial shade.

Forsythia

Forsythia is a fast-growing, low-maintenance shrub that has an upright, arching shape and is well-known for its long branches that are covered in dazzling yellow blossoms in the early spring. Because the flowers appear before the leaves, there is no foliage to obstruct your view of the blooms. Once planted, forsythias may tolerate moderate drought and have a reasonable amount of tolerance for poor garden soil. They should grow nicely for you as long as you place them somewhere that receives a lot of sunshine. The largest challenge in cultivating forsythia is maintaining the ideal shape and size by regularly pruning these quickly expanding plants. On most days, forsythia shrubs require at least six hours of direct sunlight to thrive. Your plant might not produce as many blossoms if it receives less sunlight than this.

Witch Hazel vs. Forsythia: Protections and Conservation

Except for Minnesota, nowhere in its range does witch hazel have state-level legal protection under the United States Endangered Species Act. The species is likely to be present in the majority of national park units within its range since plants in U.S. national parks and some other government land holdings have some level of legal protection, perhaps sufficient to prevent considerable economic protection.

Forsythia is not protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act either. The United States and Canada both regard forsythia as an exotic or foreign plant.

Witch Hazel vs. Forsythia: Special Features

Witch hazel extract can be used topically, though it can be drying and potentially irritating to the skin.

Witch hazel extract can be used topically, though it can be drying and potentially irritating to the skin.

©iStock.com/emer1940

Known as a topical astringent, witch hazel is frequently used as a natural skin treatment. Witch hazel has strong anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects that could help treat a range of ailments from acne to scalp irritation.

When forsythia bushes are completely branched out in the summer and fall, they are frequently employed as a living privacy wall. They can also be utilized as foundation plantings and for slope erosion mitigation. Forsythia is considered a weeping plant and can be planted behind a retaining wall and allowed to cascade over the side.

Both of these plants have their own pros and cons. If you are a fan of forsythia but find its overall shape too messy for a neat landscape idea, you could easily replace the plant with witch hazel. Either way, both plants could make an excellent addition to your garden or landscape project.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/AndreaAstes


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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is there a difference between witch hazel and witch hazel extract?

Witch hazel extract (or distillate) is extracted from the witch hazel shrub’s bark and leaves via boiling the shrub. Witch hazel extract could be considered a condensed, more potent version of the witch hazel shrub in terms of medicinal properties.

Can witch hazel be used on skin?

Witch hazel extract can be used on the skin for its anti-inflammatory properties, though it can be drying and potentially irritating.

Are forsythia shrubs difficult to maintain?

No. Forsythia shrubs are considered quite low-maintenance and can grow quickly with minimal care.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. North Carolina State Extention, Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/hamamelis-virginiana/
  2. North Carolina State Extention, Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/forsythia/
  3. C.L. Fornari, Available here: https://newengland.com/today/living/gardening/witch-hazel-winter-flowering-shrubs/
  4. Larry Morse and Eric Nielsen, Available here: https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.128564/Hamamelis_virginiana