CPC Plant Profile: Mountain Witch-alder
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Plant Profile

Mountain Witch-alder (Fothergilla major)

The fragrant flowers of this species appear in late April to early May, and are 1 to 2 inches long and bottlebrush-shaped. Photo Credit: Tom Ward
Description
  • Global Rank: G3 - Vulnerable
  • Legal Status: N/A
  • Family: Hamamelidaceae
  • State: AL, AR, GA, NC, SC, TN
  • Nature Serve ID: 149547
  • Date Inducted in National Collection: 01/01/1985

Fothergilla is a genus native to the southeastern United States. F. major, the large fothergilla, is a densely branched colonial shrub. Its usual height is 6 ft, although it may grow in the wild to 10 and even nearly 20 ft (Small 1933, Weaver 1971). Fothergilla gardenii, the small fothergilla, is only about 3 ft tall and sparsely branched (Dirr 1998) The leaves of both fothergilla species look generally similar to leaves of the common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), however, less toothed (in F. major, only in their upper two-thirds; in F. gardenii, only above the middle, if at all, and are considerably smaller and narrower) (Radford et al. 1968). There exist two forms in F. major: the "typical" one with leaves white-glaucous beneath (with stellate hairs) and the one that had been once recognized as "F. monticola" with leaves green beneath (Flint 1984). Both are found growing together in any considerably large population. Fothergillas are monoecious (male and female flowers appear on the same plant) (Foote and Jones 1994). Flowers are arranged in dense terminal spikes. They are apetalous, very fragrant, featuring conspicuous yellow stamens with long filaments. Styles are also long, persistent at fruit. Fruits are beaked dehiscent capsules, each containing two shiny, black seeds. Fothergilla is named after Dr. John Fothergill, an English philanthropist of the 18th century, who established a large garden with greenhouses in Upton, Essex, cultivated one of the most important early collections of American plants, and financed W. Bartram's travels across the North American Continent.

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Updates
  • 10/05/2020
  • Propagation Research

Propagation from seed: collect seed right on time or they can be dispersed and lost. Double dormancy interferes with germination. Propagation from cuttings: don't disturb immediately after rooting, let cuttings break buds the next following spring in the same container before potting them up. In case cuttings are disturbed early, they tend to break bud very slowly or not at all.

  • 10/05/2020
  • Living Collection

One specimen of F. major has been prospering at the Arnold Arboretum for more than 100 years.

Nature Serve Biotics
  • 05/02/2017

Fothergilla major is rare throughout its range of five southeastern states (disjunct in Arkansas). This taxon does occur in a national protected area in Tennessee and at least two state parks in North Carolina.

Irina Kadis
  • 01/01/2010

Irresponsible and uncontrolled development of vacation and retirement housing and recreation Urban development Road construction, right-of-way maintenance Clearcutting of adjacent woods and thinning of trees in its immediate proximity affects the speci

Irina Kadis
  • 01/01/2010

Remaining population sizes and sites are largely unknown.

Irina Kadis
  • 01/01/2010

Although the natural ranges of fothergillas are in the southeastern USA, they are both hardy as far north as New England. One specimen of F. major has been prospering at the Arnold Arboretum for more than 100 years. Indeed, the cultivation of the fothergillas in this country appears to be concentrated in New England and the Middle Atlantic States rather than their native southeast. F. major is generally remarkable for its individual variability. Differences in shape, size, autumn coloration, and flowering profusion have been noticed between individual clones. Due to that, F. major is a perfect candidate for a selection program and propagation (Fordham 1971). Propagation from seed: collect seed right on time or they can be dispersed and lost. Double dormancy interferes with germination. Propagation from cuttings: don't disturb immediately after rooting, let cuttings break buds the next following spring in the same container before potting them up. In case cuttings are disturbed early, they tend to break bud very slowly or not at all.

Irina Kadis
  • 01/01/2010

No formal management plan has been designed.

Irina Kadis
  • 01/01/2010

Populations need to be identified and monitored. Almost every aspect of this specie's biology and ecology needs to be researched.

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Photos
Nomenclature
Taxon Fothergilla major
Authority (Sims) Lodd.
Family Hamamelidaceae
CPC Number 6286
ITIS 19030
USDA FOMA
Common Names large witchhazel | mountain witch alder | mountain witchhazel | mountain witchalder
Associated Scientific Names Fothergilla major | Fothergilla latifolia | Fothergilla monticola
Distribution F. major is a native of the southern Appalachians (Allegheny Mountains; southern Blue Ridge) and the adjacent piedmont plateau, being distributed in northwestern North Carolina, northeastern Tennessee
State Rank
State State Rank
Alabama S2
Arkansas S1
Georgia S1
North Carolina S3
South Carolina S2
Tennessee S2
Habitat

F. major occurs in mesic-dry to dry habitats of the uplands: rich mountain woods and balds with tulip tree, Carolina silverbell, cucumbertree magnolia, common witchhazel, azalea, and others; rocky ravine banks of streams with rapid water flow. Although it can be occasionally found in mature mesic forests, its most characteristic habitats are disturbed areas on dry ridges of southeastern highlands (Hightshoe 1988, Bir 1992, Foote and Jones 1994). The plant is very shade tolerant. It needs well-drained, moist, moderate to slightly acid, rich loams. Fothergilla cannot tolerate alkaline soil.

Ecological Relationships

Ecological relationships are unknown.

Pollinators
Common Name Name in Text Association Type Source InteractionID
Bees
Bees Confirmed Pollinator Link
Butterflies & Moths
Butterflies Confirmed Pollinator Link
Reintroduction
Lead Institution State Reintroduction Type Year of First Outplanting

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