Trees & Shrubs – The Hazel / Corylus avellana
A top 5 recommended native tree for gardens from the RHS.
The hazel (Corylus) is a genus of deciduous trees and large shrubs native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere. The genus is usually placed in the birch family Betulaceae, though some botanists split the hazels (with the hornbeams and allied genera) into a separate family Corylaceae. The fruit of the hazel is the hazelnut.
Identifying features – recognisable hazelnuts and the male flower “catkins” nickname “lamb’s tails” after the tail on young sheep.
The Hazel – Corylus avellana
The horticulturalist Edward Step had this to say about the Hazel a century ago.
(Wayside and Woodland Trees A POCKET GUIDE TO THE BRITISH SYLVA by EDWARD STEP, F.L.S.)
It is rarely that the Hazel is allowed in this country to develop into a tree; as a rule it is a shrub, forming undergrowth in wood or copse, or part of a hedge. As it is cut down with the copse or hedge, it cannot form a standard of any size. But that the Hazel left alone will develop into a small tree is shown by an example in Eastwell Park, Kent, whose height a few years ago was thirty feet, with a circumference of three feet round the bole. As soon as the nuts are formed the bush is easily identified by all, so that a description of its character is hardly necessary. The large, roundish, heart-shaped leaves are arranged alternately in two rows along the straight downy shoots. Their margins are doubly toothed, and when in the bud they are plaited, the folds being parallel to the midrib. Soon after the buds open, many of the leaves assume a purplish tint for a while; in autumn they turn brown, and finally pale to yellow.
Hazel. A, female flowers; B, male flowers.
Before the leaves appear the Hazel is rendered conspicuous by the male catkins, which are familiar to country children under the name of Lamb’s-tails. These may be seen in an undeveloped condition in the autumn, when the nuts are being sought. A cluster of two or three hard, little, grey-green cylinders is all that may then be seen of them; but throughout the winter they lengthen, their scales loosen, and in February they are a couple of inches long, pliant, and yellow with the abundant pollen which blows out of them as they swing.
The female flowers are by no means conspicuous, and have to be looked for. They will be found in the form of swollen buds on the upper parts of the shoots and branches, from which issue some fine crimson threads. These are the styles and stigmas, and on dissection of the bud-like head, each pair of styles will be seen to spring from a two-celled ovary nestling between the bracts or scales of which the head is composed. It is only rarely that the seed-egg in each cell develops; as a rule one shrivels, and the other develops into the sweet “kernel” of the Hazel-nut. The shell is the ovary that has become woody and hard; the ragged-edged leathery “shuck” is the enlarged bracts that surrounded the minute flower.
The Hazel likes a good soil, and will not really flourish without it, though it will grow almost anywhere, except where the moisture is stagnant. Its wood is said to be best when grown on a chalky subsoil. Of course, as timber, the Hazel does not count, but its tough and pliant rods and staves are valuable for many small uses, such as the making of hoops for casks, walking-sticks, and—divining-rods! The bark is smooth and brown.