Bloomin’ Hazelnuts!

By Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader

About five years ago, I noticed my local township workers mowing a wooded bank next to the road to prevent brush from hanging over into it.  I looked closer and found a little, scrawny, mowed-over shrub hanging onto the edge of the bank.  I identified it as an American hazelnut (Corylus americana), and quietly pulled it out of the ground and transplanted it into the wild area in my yard.  This plant is now about 12-feet tall, has numerous stems, and is in its second year of bloom. 

As you walk or drive around right now, you may see hazelnuts in dry hedgerows and forests.  They have long, drooping catkins, which are the male flowers blooming.  In late winter and early spring, the male flower expand and release pollen (about 4-million grains per catkin).  Get close to this multi-stemmed shrub and really inspect it, and you will be in for a surprise.  Look for the little red female flower on the end of a bud and look at it through a magnifying glass.  To me it looks like a red octopus swimming away.

Hazelnuts are fairly common in our area, but seem to slip under the radar for most nature enthusiasts.  They are in the birch family and are related to alders, ironwood trees, hop-hornbeam trees, and of course birch trees.  There are about 15 species of hazelnuts around the world and they are sometimes called filberts.  Alders look similar to Hazelnut shrubs, but they grow in wetlands.  Alder shrubs that are local to our area are also multi-stemmed and have long catkins which are also blooming now.  Alders have small oval cones, which will help you differentiate them from hazelnuts.

The male hazelnut flowers are the long drooping catkins behind the little red female flower on the end of the bud.
The male hazelnut flowers are the long drooping catkins behind the little red female flower on the end of the bud.

In the fall, the female flower will turn into a very nutritious nut that is eaten by many forms of wildlife including Gray Squirrels and Blue Jays.  You had better be quick if you want to harvest the nuts before these clever critters.

Flicking the male flower (catkin) of the American hazelnut will release thousands of pollen grains.  Can you see the yellow cloud of them in this photo?
Flicking the male flower (catkin) of the American hazelnut will release thousands of pollen grains. Can you see the yellow cloud of them in this photo?

1 thought on “Bloomin’ Hazelnuts!”

  1. one of my favorite spring sights – however it was only this year that you pointed out the tiny red female flower to me. That little flower, barely seen, was like a perfect dessert – an added extra!

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