Hazel: a tiny flower becomes a tasty nut
I’d like to introduce you to the lovely native tree that is Hazel this week – corylus avellana. I’m a big fan of Hazel, and if you’ve ever been out on a walk in a woodland with me in the Autumn, you’ll know that I spend quite some time scanning the ground for nuts in search of tasty treats!
A deciduous tree native to the northern hemisphere, Hazel belongs to the Betulaceae family of flowering plants, which features the lovely Birch tree, the Alder, and the Hornbeam. Some characteristics of this family: the trees have very distinctive pendulous catkins and bear both male and female flowers.
The flowers are produced very early in the spring before the leaves – the male catkins hang in clusters, are pale yellow and 5 -12cm long. The female flowers are bright red but so small that you would barely notice them as they are often concealed in the buds. Hazel flowers are pollinated by wind and must be pollinated by other hazel trees than their own to produce a fruit. They mature into an edible nut that has a woody shell surrounded by a cup of bracts.
The leaves of the Hazel tree are round to oval, double-toothed and pointed at the tip. They provide food for the Caterpillars of Moths and turn yellow before falling in the Autumn. The pollen in Hazel flowers is an early source of food for bees, while the nuts are loved by Birds (Tits and Woodpeckers), small mammals like the Dormouse and the red Squirrel, and by larger mammals like myself (and the red Deer!)
Hazel is prized for its bendy stems. It was used traditionally to make thatching spars and eel and lobster traps. The tree can be coppiced, and regenerating shoots allow for harvests every few years. Hazel rods are used in furniture making, as fencing material (wattle) and as pea and bean stakes by gardeners.
Is there something you love about the Hazel tree? Or you have a particular memory attached to them? Or like me, you’re very fond of its crunchy nut? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section. xx
📷 by Grantham Ecology and Robert Read
Illustration by M/P. Verneuil