Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta)

Beaked hazelnut, Elm Rock Farm, May 2017

The archaeological record shows that humans have been consuming hazelnuts for at least 8,000 years. Ancient middens have been unearthed across Europe, heaping with shells. I will confess that I have not had the same success as my Neolithic forebears with this plant. My first year on the farm, I watched the hazelnuts grow weekly, with the intent of gathering them by the bucketful in late autumn. Not realizing that the squirrels had a similar objective, I waited too long, and before I had a chance to fill my pails, the hazelnuts had been secreted away by a colony of industrious rodents.

In the subsequent years, I have had similarly calamitous battles with worms, and I have yet to successfully harvest a batch of these perfidious fruit.

Beyond their unattainable bounty, these dense shrubs have much to offer the observant forest denizen. In particular, watch for the transformation of the male catkins, which form in the fall as minute egg-shaped buds, and then extend into pendulous garlands as the winter months wane. And the tiny, magenta female flowers are an often-overlooked jewel in the cool, colourless early days of spring.

Other Common Names:

  • Beaked hazel, beaked filbert

Characteristics of Beaked Hazelnut:

  • Deciduous shrub growing 4-8m tall.
  • Bark is smooth and grey, branches zig zag.
  • Buds are two-toned-gray brown, generally with darker bases. One or two bud scales are much hairier than the others.
  • Leaves are simple, alternate, oval, often with slight lobes, 5-11cm long, and sharply double-toothed. The undersides of the leaves are slightly hairy, especially at the veins.
Close-up view of female flower above, and male catkins below. Elm Rock Farm, April 2020.

Reproduction:

  • Mostly monoecious (individual plants have both male and female flowers)
  • Male flowers are gray-brown catkins near the tips of branches, forming in the fall, and pollinating the following spring.
  • Female flowers are tiny, red fringes sprouting from buds in early spring.
  • Wind-pollinated, not self-fertile
  • The fruit is a round nut enclosed in a tubular, green, bristly shell up to 4cm long. The nuts are usually joined in clusters of 2.
  • Nuts are dispersed by birds and mammals, such as jays and rodents.
  • In addition to sexual reproduction, beaked hazelnut can reproduce by sending out new shoots.

Similar Species:

  • Beaked hazelnut can be distinguished from the only other hazel in the area, the American hazelnut (C. americana), by the following:
    • The catkins of American hazel are borne on stalks, while the catkins of beaked hazel are sessile (attached directly to the branch).
    • The husk that encloses the beaked hazel tapers to a long end, while that of the American hazel is much shorter, and fringed at the end.
    • The branches of American hazel have red glandular hairs, which beaked hazel does not have.

Ecological Role:

  • Nuts are eaten by birds and rodents, such as jays, squirrels, and chipmunks.
  • The catkins are a staple food for ruffed grouse

Edibility:

  • Nuts

Other Uses:

  • Branches used for basketry

Etymology:

  • “Hazelnut” comes from Old English “hæsel,” (derived from an ancient word for the hazel plant,) and Old English “hnutu” (derived from an ancient word meaning “nut.”)
  • The Latin word “corylus” comes from the Ancient Greek word for the hazel shrub, “κόρῠλος (kórulos).”
  • “Cornuta” is derived from Latin “cornutus,” meaning “horned.”

Other:

  • Hazelnut has been featured in various stories and folklore such as “The Story of Finn McCool” and “The Hazel Branch” by the Brothers Grimm.

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