Corylus cornuta (Beaked Hazelnut) is a dense, thicket-forming, deciduous shrub with ascending branches. The foliage of rounded oval, fuzzy, doubly serrate, bright green leaves, 4 in. long (10 cm), turns bright yellow in fall. In late winter, long, pendant, pale yellow-gray male catkins dangle like Christmas decorations along the bare branches. They are a welcome sight in the winter garden. The catkins release clouds of pollen that attract bees and other insects. Inconspicuous female flowers with protruding bright red stigma and styles are clustered at the ends of short branches. They are followed by edible brown nuts enclosed in leafy, hairy, green husks. The husk is extended, forming a long, tubular beak shape, hence the common name. The nuts ripen in late summer and early fall. They were a food source for Native Americans. Birds and wildlife, including squirrels, deer, grouse, and pheasant feast on them. Beaked hazelnut's rhizomatous habit generally produces thickets that form a continuous understory in the absence of disturbance. This suckering shrub is effective in naturalistic areas, group plantings, shrub borders, or woodland margins.
The beaked hazelnut is a very cold-hardy shrub, surviving cold temperatures at least as low as -50C in the northern areas of its native range. It will generally not grow to more than 3 metres (8 feet) in height, making it a good choice if you are searching for a tree to plant underneath electric lines! As well as being the most cold-hardy of hazelnut species, it is more disease-resistant than the filbert or common hazelnut.
The beaked hazel is moderately shade-tolerant, and does not do well in very open areas that become too hot and dry. However, do keep in mind that although it will grow with some shade (not all day shade!) its hazelnut harvest will be heavily reduced.
Beaked hazel grows as a shrub with an upright bearing. It will reach around 3 metres in height at most, with a spread of about 2 metres. This illustration shows a 20-year-old beaked hazel shrub that has attained its maximum height.
You should note that this illustration is meant only to give a general indication of what you can expect, and the growth of your tree might look somewhat different. The development of a tree depends on the soil type, irrigation, fertilisation and climatic conditions. What we show here is based on our observation of the growth of beaked hazel in zone 4, in rather poor soil. In zone 2, growth will probably be slower, while in a rich soil it could be faster.
All our beaked hazel trees are sold bare-root, without pots. They have been cultivated directly in our soil. Bare-root trees must be taken out of the ground and shipped during their period of dormancy, which is why we only ship trees in the spring. A big advantage with these kinds of trees is that they take up very little space, and can therefore be easily shipped by mail all over Canada!
This photograph shows a 2-foot beaked hazel tree, just like one that you might receive. Depending on the height you choose at the time of purchase, the tree might be somewhat taller (3-5 feet). It might also be somewhat smaller (closer to 1 foot) depending on availability at the time of order preparation.
The beaked hazlenut is an early successional plant usually found in open forests with a partly shady understory. Beaked hazelnut is wind pollinated, so flowers do not provide nectar for pollinators. The nuts form on branches that are 2-18 years old, and underground root systems respond well to trimming, fire, and other disturbance, shooting up new flowering branches 1-2 years after. Small mammal caching is critical to the dispersal of the seeds. Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, rodents, and black bears eat the nuts. Deer, moose, elk, and beaver eat the leaves. Many trees in a small area can also form thickets used as shelter for small mammals and birds.
If I had to choose a favorite wild edible, it would be the hazelnut. Rich in protein, fat, and flavor, hazelnuts make a satisfying snack, and can be used in cooking wherever you would use their commercially available counterparts (called filberts or hazelnuts). The two species native to North America are the American hazel (Corylus americana) and beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta). Both are common shrubs, and if you find a few specimens that produce well, foraging for hazelnuts is as easy as going to the grocery store. Read on, and you will learn how to identify and where to look for wild hazelnuts.
It is said that beaked and American hazels occasionally grow as single stemmed trees, but I have never seen one grow like that in the wild. (In contrast, most Corylus species used for commercial production of hazelnuts usually do grow as trees.)
You can even use the catkins to distinguish between American and beaked hazel, for those of the former species are borne on little stalks (as in my photo) while those of the beaked hazel are sessile (attached directly to the twig, with no connecting stalk). In winter, the brown catkins are small and tight, sometimes no more than an inch long. In early spring, the catkins release pollen as they grow to several inches in length.
Wild hazelnuts can be used in any recipe that calls for hazelnuts, for the flavor is very similar, if not better, than the commercially produced nuts. I sprinkle them in yogurt, oatmeal, and salads, and use them in baked goods. I make nut butter and chocolate hazelnut bark, and add them to ice cream. Check out my recipes for autumnberry hazelnut ice cream pie, and elderberry ice cream with chocolate hazelnut crunch.//
Please do not plant non-native plants. Wildlife (from insects, butterflies, all the way up to mammals)and plants have evolved together and planting non-native plants ruins the balance. Plant only American hazelnuts or beaked hazelnuts; they are native. Thanks!
I live North of the 55th parallel in Northern Alberta, Canada. I have discovered several beaked hazelnuts on my acreage this year. I think I have had them for several years but never noticed them. I just harvested a full ice cream pail yesterday. I am ecstatic to have discovered these way up in the frozen North
Hi, I would love to plant hazelnuts, but only have a few small spaces in full sun. How much space does each one need? How far apart should they be planted? How far apart can they be planted (say, backyard and front yard) and still pollinate each other? If I wanted to plant a clump of, say, 3 in a triangle shape, what distance should they be from each other? How much space would I need to allow for the whole clump?
With separate male and female flowers on the same plant, both species of hazelnut enlist the assistance of the wind in their pollination efforts. The flowers bloom before the leaves emerge, increasing the odds that the wind will successfully transport the pollen grains from the male flowers to a compatible female flower, since there are no leaf surfaces to impede the pollination effort.
Cream colored catkins containing the male flowers are visible from fall through winter, hanging stiffly from the hazelnut branches. As the winter winds down, the catkins grow longer and looser, their color evolving to include a hint of yellow. At maturity, thousands of tiny grains of pollen are released from the cluster of male flowers encompassed by the catkins, traveling on the wind in search of a female flower as a mate, preferably on a nearby compatible hazelnut. Pollination with a separate plant expands the gene pool, and increases the likelihood of successful offspring.
The female flowers are wonderfully gaudy in a subtle, inconspicuous way. Usually found at the tips of branches, the buds appear to be small and reddish brown during the winter. In bloom, the female flower parts resemble tiny, bright magenta sunbursts. There are several female flowers inside a single bud, with only their stigmas emerging to catch the wind blown pollen. Check the hazelnuts branches to see these petite, spidery female delights when the catkins containing the male flowers elongate and move freely in the wind.
Humans are not the only consumers of hazelnuts. Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and fox are among the other mammals who eat these tasty treats. Birds with beaks strong enough to open the shells for a meal include woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Wild Turkey and grouse.
During their growing season, hazelnuts may provide food for many beneficial insects, including the caterpillars of some of the most beautiful giant silkworm moths such as the Cecropia and Polyphemus Moths.
Beaked Hazelnut may also be used as food by Early Hairstreak butterfly caterpillars. According to Douglas Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home, over 130 species of butterflies and moths may use the hazelnuts as caterpillar food plants. Birds rely on these insects and others as an important source of protein, especially during the critical period when they are feeding their young families.
See if you can find a hazelnut growing near you. When spring arrives, think about planting this versatile shrub to attract birds, butterflies, moths and other wildlife to your yard. It will also provide welcome assurance that spring is just about here.
Botanical literary note: I first learned to watch for hazelnut catkins after seeing the movie "Women In Love" and then reading the D.H. Lawrence novel. In England, the native hazel is Corylus avellana, which is also the commercially grown hazelnut or filbert.
For information and photographs about how to distinguish Corylus cornuta var. californica and C. avellana, see Mark Turner's blog. The USDA has a Plant Fact Sheet and Heidi Bohan wrote up beaked hazelnut for the winter series of Starflower Foundation's Native Plant of the Month posters.
"People of many tribes in California picked hazelnuts (Corylus cornuta var.californica) by the basketful and ate them raw or roasted. They were oftenhulled by hand at leisure in the village. The Wintu also hulled hazelnuts bybeating them with a willow switch. Often a supply was dried, stored in theshell, and kept on hand through the winter and spring. The Yurok poundedhazelnut kernels into a flour, added warm water, and used the mixture tonurse sickly children or ill persons with weak stomachs." [Anderson TTW] 041b061a72