A Native in Bloom: American Hazelnut

American Hazelnut Flowers

I’ll admit the flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) are not superstars in the southern piedmont landscape. In fact, it’s easy to walk past these shrubs without realizing what they are. They are probably most easily identified right now in late winter as their leafless branches produce separate male and female flowers. That little red flower is the female; the long catkins are the males. Gravity and wind ensure that the male pollen lands on the females situated mostly below the catkins.

I was excited when, in our first year on this property, I realized we had a healthy stand of American Hazelnuts growing right beside the creek. This is exactly where Hazelnuts like to grow, and the colony seemed to be thriving.

Because this is a wild native stand of Hazelnuts, the fruits  (often called filberts) are tiny, compared to those grown for human consumption. However, one year, we did manage to beat the squirrels to a couple of nuts and they were quite tasty little bites.

Since those early years, we have learned that American Hazelnut is a favorite snack of beavers. When a family moved in some years ago, they ate every single stem to the ground, eradicating a colony eight feet tall and ten feet wide in one night of feasting. Fortunately for us, after the beavers moved on, the Hazelnut colony resprouted. Passing beavers still dine on it from time to time, but it persists resolutely despite this predation.

While wandering our yard yesterday, we made a happy discovery. At the base of the hill that marks the beginning of the floodplain about 500 yards from the creek, a new plant is growing and blooming just like its creekside kin. We assume a squirrel must have buried a nut and forgotten it. Now we have a colony far enough removed from the creek that the beavers will never find it.

I deem this a win for everyone — more food and cover for wildlife, and increased species diversity to make my landscape healthier and more resilient. And I didn’t even need to do any planting.

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