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Fothergilla gardenii by John Gwaltney, Southeasternflora.com. Image may be subject to copyright.
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Fothergilla gardenii L.

Dwarf Witch-alder

Federal Protection: No US federal protection

State Protection: Threatened

Global Rank: G3G4

State Rank: S2

Element Locations Tracked in Biotics: Yes

SWAP High Priority Species (SGCN): Yes

Element Occurrences (EOs) in Georgia: 13

Habitat Summary for element in Georgia: Openings in low woods; swamps


Description

Much branched, colonial shrub up 6.6 feet (2 meters) tall but usually about 3 feet (1 meter) tall, with slender, hairy twigs. The leaves 0.8 - 2.4 inches (2 - 6 cm) long and 0.5- 1.8 inch (1.3 - 4.5 cm) wide, alternate, deciduous, oval to nearly round, with 4 - 5 pairs of conspicuously parallel veins and clusters of star-shaped hairs on the lower surface (magnification of 10x is recommended to see hairs); the leaf margins are wavy and have rounded teeth; the leaf base is symmetrical. Flower clusters are dense “bottlebrush” spikes held at the tips of twigs and contain many flowers. The flowers are bisexual with a bright green pistil and 12 - 24 showy, white stamens; there are no petals and the sepals are inconspicuous; the flowers are fragrant, smelling somewhat like honey. Fruits are oval, hairy capsules 0.24 - 0.5 inch (0.6 - 1.2 cm) long, held in groups of three, each fruit with a long, pointed beak and containing one, shiny, brownish-black seed.

Similar Species

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a large shrub of moist, upland hardwood forests. It has similarly shaped, though much larger and more fully toothed, leaves; it produces flowers with yellow petals in late fall.

'Mt. Airy,' a cultivar of a hybrid between Fothergilla gardenii and Fothergilla major, is a very popular landscape plant.

Related Rare Species

Mountain Witch-alder (Fothergilla major) occurs in upland hardwood forests in the Piedmont and mountains; it is a taller, more robust plant with larger leaves and flower clusters. For more information, see: https://www.georgiabiodiversity.org/natels/profile?es_id=19009.

Habitat

Sunny, wet edges of shrub swamps, Atlantic White Cedar forests, bays, pitcherplant bogs, and shrubby edges of wet flatwoods in the Coastal Plain and Fall Line ecoregions.

Life History

Dwarf Witch-alder reproduces sexually as well as vegetatively by the spread of stolons (horizontal stems spreading at or just below the soil surface and sending up new shoots). Its flowers usually emerge before the leaves, in early spring, and are held in showy spikes. The numerous, white stamens and sweet fragrance attract bees, butterflies, and other insect pollinators. The fruits of Dwarf Witch-alder are capsules that shrink as they dry, placing the seeds under pressure. When the seeds are mature, the capsule snaps open and flings the seed several feet away, out of the reach of competition from the parent plant. The seeds are doubly dormant, with a combination of seed coat (external dormancy) and internal dormancy. The seed coat must first be scarified to break the external dormancy – this is accomplished by mechanical injury during seed dispersal, by freezing temperatures, or by passing through the digestive system of animals. Then the seeds must undergo a period of warm, fluctuating temperatures followed by a period of cool temperatures to overcome internal dormancy before germination takes place.

Survey Recommendations

Surveys are best conducted during flowering (March–April) although the leaves are distinctive throughout the growing season; in the fall, the leaves turn bright yellow and red.

Range

Coastal Plain of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Threats

Fire suppression; disruption of seepage from uplands by placing firebreaks, ditches, and roads in wetland ecotones; clearing, ditching, draining, and filling wetlands.

Georgia Conservation Status

Dwarf Witch-alder is ranked S2 by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, indicating that it is imperiled in the state. It is listed as Threatened by the State of Georgia. Thirteen populations have been documented, but only four have been seen since 2000. One population is protected on state conservation land, and one occurs on a military base.

Conservation Management Recommendations

Allow prescribed fire to burn into wetlands; avoid placing firebreaks or roads in wetland ecotones. Avoid changes in hydrology and upland land use that affect seepage flow into bogs and swamps.

References

Chafin, L.G. 2007. Field guide to the rare plants of Georgia. State Botanical Garden of Georgia and University of Georgia Press, Athens.

Clark, P.C. 1988. A case of mistaken identity. American Nurseryman 168: 52-58.

Dirr, M.A. 1977. Fothergillas: a garden aristocrat. Horticulture 40:38-39.

Dirr, M.A. 1990. Manual of woody landscape plants. Fourth edition. Stipes Publishing Company, Champaign, Illinois.

Dumroese, R.K. and T. Luna. 2016. Growing and marketing woody species to support pollinators: An emerging opportunity for forest, conservation, and native plant nurseries in the Northeastern United States. Tree Planters’ Notes 59(2): 49–60. https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/52882

Foote, L.E. and S.B. Jones, Jr. 1989. Native shrubs and woody vines of the southeast. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Fordham, A.J. 1971. Notes from the Arnold Arboretum: propagation of Fothergilla. Arnoldia 31(4): 256-259. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42962479

GADNR. 2020. Element occurrence records for Fothergilla gardenii. Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Social Circle, Georgia.

Gilman, E.F. 1999. Fothergilla gardenii: Fact Sheet FPS-214. Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville.

Godfrey, R.K. 1988. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. University of Georgia Press, Athens.

Godfrey, R.K. and J.W. Wooten. 1981. Aquatic and wetland plants of southeastern United States, Vol. 2, dicotyledons. University of Georgia Press, Athens.

Haynes, J.E., W.D. Phillips, A. Krings, N.P. Lynch, and T.G. Ranney. 2020. Revision of Fothergilla (Hamamelidaceae), including resurrection of F. parvifolia and a new species, F. milleri. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7093572/#!po=2.27273

Joiner, M.S. 1998. Fothergilla gardenii: rare jewel of the Coastal Plain. Tipularia, Journal of the Georgia Botanical Society 13: 17-22.

Kral, R. 1983. A report on some rare, threatened, or endangered forest-related vascular plants of the South. Technical Publication R8-TP2. United States Forest Service, Atlanta.

Lance, R. 2004. Woody plants of the southeastern United States: a winter guide. University of Georgia Press, Athens.

Mahr, S. 2018. Fothergilla. Master Gardener Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://wimastergardener.org/article/fothergilla/

Meyer, F.G. 1997. Fothergilla gardenii species account. Flora of North America. Vol. 3, Magnoliophyta: Magnoliidae and Hamamelidae. Oxford University Press, New York. http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=220005331

NatureServe. 2019. Fothergilla gardenii comprehensive report. NatureServe Explorer. Arlington, Virginia. http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Fothergilla+gardenii

Nelson, G. 1996. Shrubs and woody vines of Florida. Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida.

Weakley, A.S. 2015. Flora of the southern and mid-Atlantic States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. http://www.herbarium.unc.edu/flora.htm

Weaver, R.E. 1969. Studies in the North American genus Fothergilla. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 50: 599-619.

Weaver, R.E. 1971. The Fothergillas. Arnoldia 31(3): 89-97. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42955569

Authors of Account

Linda G. Chafin

Date Compiled or Updated

L. Chafin, Feb. 2008: original account

K. Owers, Jan. 2010: added pictures

L. Chafin, Feb 2020: updated original account.

Fothergilla gardenii, inflorescence by Hugh and Carol Nourse. Image may be subject to copyright.
Fothergilla gardenii, illustration by Jean C. Putnam Hancock. Image may be subject to copyright.
Fothergilla gardenii (left, symmetrical base) and Fothergilla major (right, asymmetrical base) by Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin-Madison Master Gardener Program. https://wimastergardener.org/article/fothergilla/
Fothergilla gardenii, fall leaf color. Wikimedia Commons.