Our hazel trees, Corylus americana, have decorated themselves with golden catkins, which appear to grow a little longer and a little more luminous each day. These male “flowers,” which first appeared in early winter, are now full of pollen, ready to fertilize the emerging female flowers.
The most flagrantly “ready” reproducers in our winter garden, calling more attention to themselves than even our frisky birds, these gorgeous hazel trees have taken root in several areas in our back garden and along the edge of the forest.
Hazel trees, closely related to the birch, are monoecious. That is, they produce male catkins full of pollen separate from the female flowers. Both may appear on the same tree, but hazel nuts will only grow from the flowers. Looking carefully at the photos, you might notice the bright red flowers ready to break bud, yesterday.
The flowers, cautiously waiting to open, have been bathed in sleet and snow today.
These small trees grow as multi-stemmed clumps. They spread a bit year to year, as they grow thicker and taller. The individual trunks remain slender; more shrub than tree. Growing to around 12′ tall, the crowns may spread to be a bit wider. These native trees begin to grow wherever a buried nut is forgotten by the squirrels.
Preferring full sun, the Corylus americana also does well in partial shade, at the base of larger hard wood trees. Giving fewer nuts in shade, the tree still grows happily in moderately moist soil. Its small nuts ripen in late September or early October. Not that it matters… ours are usually long gone by then, enjoyed by birds and squirrels.
The long, pliable stems of the hazel can be cut and used for fencing, plant supports, and even to make the framework of baskets. This is a “cut and come again” shrub which welcomes moderate harvesting.
Branches cut now make a beautiful and long lasting addition to indoor arrangements. They give structure when used with early bulbs, hellebores, and even other branches, which will soon flower.
Although deer enjoy the nuts in late summer and autumn, they don’t generally bother the hazel’s leaves or new shoots. This is another shrub which can co-exist with grazing deer.
A welcome signal that warmer weather is coming, I was thrilled to notice the tiny red buds on our hazels yesterday. New leaves are still several weeks away. But the hazel flowers are anxious to open to fresh pollen, and lead our garden into a new season of fruitfulness.
All photos by Woodland Gnome 2014