It’s time for our second tree in our ‘plant of the week’ series. This time we are taking a look at the quirky Corylus avellana, commonly known as hazel. Hazel is a deciduous nut-bearing member of the birch family (Betulaceae) producing catkins of flowers from late winter to spring followed by rounded, soft, green foliage throughout the summer. In autumn the leaves turn yellow as fruits containing hazelnuts begin to ripen.
Cultivation & Care
Hazel grows well in most soils, though it doesn’t grow very well in very acid, poor or rich, heavy soils. It enjoys a loam soil and will be much more productive in fertile soil. Hazel is hardy and will cope with British winters, however as the flowers can become damaged by heavy frosts. If you desire plentiful hazelnuts then it is worth noting that better pollination will occur if more than one cultivar is planted nearby.
By using a technique called ‘brutting’ in late summer, you can cause hazel to crop more heavily by breaking the longer side-shoots of this season’s growth. Simply bend the branches in half by hand and leave the broken section hanging from the branch. As a result, increased light exposure will encourage the formation of female flowers on weaker growth.
Winter is a good time to carry out remedial pruning to reduce congested growth and remove any suckering branches at the base of the plant. It is also a good time to reduce the summer brutted branches to 3 or 4 buds. Interestingly, pruning at this time of year will increase the rate of pollination as the disturbance will cause more pollen to be released from the catkins.
The seeds of hazel, known as hazelnuts are delicious and nutritious and can be enjoyed both raw and roasted. An edible oil can also be extracted from the seeds, which is great used in salad dressings and baking. Milk can also be made by liquidising the seeds and demand for such products in increasing due to people becoming aware of the impact of dairy on our health, the environment and the treatment of the animals used within the dairy industry.
Hazel is an amazing plant for wildlife! The foliage provides food for the caterpillars of many species of moth. When coppiced, the trees offer great shelter for ground-nesting species of birds nightjar and willow warbler.
Hazelnuts also provide food for many birds such as wood pigeons, jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches and tits. Squirrels and other small mammals also enjoy these nutritious treats. Dormice enjoy hazel not only for the delicious nuts it produces but also for the caterpillars that can be found feasting on the leaves in spring.
Although they are wind pollinated, the flowers of hazel offer a great source of early pollen for bees.