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Beaked hazelnut is a mound-shaped perennial shrub that bears tasty nuts and provides food and cover to a variety of wildlife. Extirpated (extinct in the wild) in Ohio, C. cornuta var. cornuta occurs natively from Washington state to the eastern coast of North America. It isn’t picky about soils and grows best in moist, well-drained sites. It can reach 15 or even 20 feet in height, growing vigorously in full sun; flowering and growth will suffer in part sun or shade. It has a shallow, extensive root system composed of a taproot, intertwining lateral roots, and rhizomes. In the wild, it’s generally an understory shrub that produces a continuous thicket in undisturbed areas. Its incredibly dense branching can obscure up to 98% of the sunlight.

 

Beaked hazelnut is one of the earliest shrubs to bloom in spring. Throughout winter, male catkins dangle from the bare stems. From January to March, the spiky, red flowers of the female catkins, or “little red flames” as D.H. Lawrence referred to them, emerge from their buds to await pollination. The male catkins loosen into long, yellow pollen capsules that release their grains into the wind.

 

The rare early hairstreak butterfly has been observed laying eggs on only two native plants: American beech, its primary host, and beaked hazelnut. Beaked hazelnut is the main larval host plant in the Great Lakes area and West Virginia. The larvae feed on the developing nuts of both plants. A number of factors have contributed to the decline of the early hairstreak population, including habitat loss, insecticidal spraying, beech tree diseases, and a 40-year waiting period for nuts to emerge on young beeches (https://www.butterfliesofmassachusetts.net/early-hairstreak.htm).

  

The genus, Corylus, is derived from the Greek word korus, which means “helmet” and refers to the shape and hardness of the nuts. Cornuta means “horn or beak” and refers to the long, bristly husks that narrow to form slender beaks with ruffled tips (another common name is beaked filbert). The nuts ripen from September to October. While smaller than their European counterparts, they have a slightly sweeter and milder flavor that is favored by many Americans who consume them.

 

Native habitats include upland forests, thickets, wetlands (occasionally), open woods, and edges of forests. It’s an excellent choice for woodland gardens and naturalized areas.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 5-20 tall.

 

Best growth in full sun; tolerates partial shade with reduced flowering and growth.

 

Prefers moist, well-drained soils, including loam and clay. Tolerates slightly drier soils.

 

Bloom period is April-May with bud-like female catkins occurring on the same branch as male catkins. Round nuts grow singly or in clusters, encased in husks that grow beyond the nut to form “beaks” that are 2-4 times the length of the nut.

 

Green, fuzzy leaves are ovate in shape with coarsely double-toothed margins. Fall color is bright yellow.

 

New twigs are greenish to yellowish to light brown and mostly hairless; older bark is light to dark brown with scattered white lenticels. Bark is initially smooth, developing a criss-cross pattern as it matures.

 

Wildlife Value:

Host plant for 118 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the arresting cecropia and luna moths (pictured here) and four specialist moths. Consider yourself lucky if you find the rare early hairstreak butterfly laying eggs on your beaked hazelnut!

 

Hazelnuts have a higher nutritional value than acorns and are a high-fat, high-protein source for many types of wildlife, including wild turkeys, ruffed grouses, woodpeckers, blue jays, chipmunks, squirrels, and foxes. Snowshoe hares browse heavily on young shoots during the winter. The winter buds and spring catkins are a valuable protein source for ruffed grouses and American woodcocks. The dense branching of the shrub provides cover and nesting for wildlife.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Native Americans ate the nuts fresh, or buried them to eat later. The nuts may be eaten in a variety of ways, such as roasted, ground into a flour, sprinkled on yogurt or oatmeal, made into a nut butter, added to chocolate bark, and much more. Harvest the nuts when they are beginning to turn brown and the husks are still green. Let the prickly husks dry before trying to remove the nuts.

 

Stems were used for weaving baskets and fish traps. Straight stems were used to make arrows, and twisted twigs were used to tie things together.

Hazelnut, Beaked, Corylus cornuta v. cornuta

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