When I was a small child we used to play by the hill which was close to our house. One day as we explored the trails at the bottom we discovered these strange nut-like things in the shrubs and took them home to show our parents who told us they were wild or Beaked Hazelnuts(Corylus cornuta). We then had to gather them in their itchy prickly cases as they were still green. We knew if we waited to long the squirrels would get them and would leave the empty and decayed ones behind.
Later on we found our grandparents had a large Hazelnut bush but it was different; it was the Common or European Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) which is grown as a commercial crop. It’s nuts are much bigger and their casings are much smaller and less prickly too. Many years later having moved far away to Vancouver Island I was out with my sister and her young son at Denham Till Park and guess what we found, an old Hazelnut grove!
I had by this time shown her the ”very cool’ Corkscrew Hazelnut( Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) which was located at the library in Sidney near were she lived.
It’s interesting to think that a plain straight branched plant can give us a twisting ‘sport’ which was found accidentally in a Gloucestershire hedgerow in the 1860s. We must thank the unknown person who stumbled upon it and had the foresight to save it for all in the future to enjoy. Corkscrew Hazelnuts shine at this time of the year with their pale butter yellow catkins hanging amongst the mass of writhing branches which reminds one of Medusa’s tresses.
If you see a Corylus avellana ‘Contorta you are not likely to forget it, even the leaves have a wierd look to them because they have the same kind of slight twistiness to them. As you can see this can become a large dense shrub which should be given a spotlight like location to show itself off. Most of these shrubs are grafted which can lead to problems from the under-graft sending up straight shoots which must be removed as soon as they can be easily handled. Spring is also a good time to do any pruning for the odd awkward branches that need removal.
These are slow growing shrubs which can grow to 8-10ft by 6-8ft wide. Corkscrew Hazelnuts are easy to grow as they are not fussy about soil as long as it’s well drained. they do best in full sun or slight shade. It is best to select your plant when it does not have its’s leaves yet as you will be able to see it’s form better. Although this is a ‘nut’ plant do not expect any to be produced. It looks delightful under-planted with low growing plants which bring attention to its attractive bark.
Links to Learn From:
European or Common Hazelnut : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corylus_avellana
Denham Till Park in North Saanich: http://www.northsaanich.ca/Municipal_Hall/Departments/Parks_and_Trails/Parks_Information/Municipal_Parks/Denham_Till_Park.htm
Corkscrew Hazelnuts : http://www.mobot.org/GARDENINGHELP/PLANTFINDER/Plant.asp?code=C360
Who knows what treasures you will find here next time.