Beaked Hazelnut

Beaked Hazelnut

A delicious, but well-protected, treat

Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus Cornuta), or filberts as they are sometimes known, are common here in Maine. They are an important food source for rodents, deer, and many birds including grouse and turkeys. They are very tasty but smaller than their European counterpart, which is what you would usually find at the grocery store.

During the growing season, hazelnuts provide food for many beneficial insects, including some of the amazing giant silkworm moths of Maine, like Cecropia and Polyphemus Moths. In Douglas Tallamy’s “Bringing Nature Home,” he notes that over 130 species of moths and butterflies may use hazelnuts as their caterpillar food source. Many birds depend on caterpillars specifically as protein for their offspring.

Hazelnut shrubs are fairly tolerant of a variety of soils, but they do best in rich, well-drained locations. They flourish in sun to partial shade. They are highly cold tolerant and hardy once established. At maturity they get no more than 15 feet high, so they are commonly found along forest, field or wetland edge habitat as an understory shrub or as one of many shrubs in a hedgerow.

Flowering in the late winter and early spring, the female flower is a tiny, spidery burst of magenta, usually at the end of the branches. The drooping catkins of the male flower also add winter interest to the landscape even before plants have leafed out. Since hazelnuts have separate male and female flowers, and there are no leaves this early in the season to impede the wind’s capacity to assist with pollination, the pollen grains are readily transported to the female flowers.

The rounded, green leaves turn a soft yellow in the fall. The ascending branches form a rounded vase-shaped shrub with many stems and a tenacious root system, excellent for stabilizing soil. Because they do not get large, and can tolerate a variety of soil types and degrees of dampness, they serve well as a planting to stabilize a bank along a driveway or near the water.

The nut, the fruit for which this shrub is named, is enclosed in a husk with a tubular protuberance like a strange nostrum, or beak. These high-protein, highly sought-after nuts are edible and delicious – but first, you must remove the outer covering which is protected by short, stinging hairs. Then you must remove the shell, which is hard and requires a tool with which to open them. Thus you will need both gloves and a nutcracker to extract the nut. Finally, you must be quicker than the local wildlife which often find them first.