This looks really bad–leaves stripped right down to the mid-rib. Even I was kind of shocked to see this in my yard. I’ve never had this kind of damage on my witch hazel before.
So what did I do? I whipped out my trusty computer to figure out what might be going on! As it turns out, not much eats witch hazel leaves, so I don’t have to worry about too much mis-diagnosis.
This is pretty clearly caterpillar damage. I’d rank this right up there with what a tomato hornworm can do to a tomato leaf in the blink of an eye if the gardener isn’t paying attention.
And there are only 2 caterpillars that bother the witch hazel (hamamelis species and cultivars)–the eastern tent caterpillars, which I ruled out pretty quickly because there are no “tents” or masses of caterpillars in web-like structures between the branches, and the saddled prominent, a green caterpillar that turns into a sort of dusky moth.
By the time I noticed this damage, the caterpillar was gone–because as we know, caterpillars are just one stage of development in the life of a moth.
Further reading told me that saddled prominants have an outbreaks every 3 years or so in the Northeast–so this isn’t something I’m going to have to worry about for another couple of years.
And since it’s not as if the tree were completely defoliated, I’m not going to worry about it even then!