Corylus cornuta ssp californica
Western Hazelnut is a deciduous, multi-stemmed small tree (or large shrub) with vase-like arching branches. It has saw-toothed leaves that are notably soft in both texture and color; velvet to the touch and sweet on the eyes. It is one of the first blooming plants, showy in-so-far as the competition is slim in January - so the blooms are a gorgeously welcomed sign of spring to come. It is monoecious - which means both male and female parts are contained in one plant. The leafless branches are adorn with puffy clusters of red female stigmas, tiny to the point of being unnoticeable but strikingly ornate under a magnifying glass, and pale-yellow male catkins dangle from the branch tips. In fall, the leaves turn golden-yellow and fruits mature into hard-shelled edible nuts, which are collected by birds, small mammals and only the most astute gardeners that can outwit the wildlife.
- Plant type/canopy layer: deciduous perennial shrub or tree
- Size at maturity: 2-14' high, 10-20' wide
- Light requirements: full sun to full shade
- Moisture requirements: moist to dry soils
- Bloom time: Jan - March
- Growth rate/ease: fast growing, easy to grow
- Wildlife support: Flowers attract and provide nectar to adult butterflies. This species attracts and supports beneficial and other pest eating insects and is a caterpillar host plant and larval food source for native butterflies and moths. It provides cover for many species of birds, as well as mammals - that also collect it’s plentiful hazelnuts, especially native jays squirrels and chipmunks. Rabbits and deer eat leaves and sprouts.
- Native habitat/range: Common on moist, rocky slopes, streambanks and riparian areas, in the understory or at the edge of mixed forests, and lakeshores from sea level; to 1800m from British Columbia to California, generally from the Cascades to the coast. Portland Plant List - yes.
- Special features & uses: Wildlife favorite. Landscape use; erosion control, hedgerow/screen/thicket and as a windbreak. Human use; this plant has been exceptionally important to Native Americans for millenia and strategic fire regimes were used to maintain optimal conditions and to maximize nut production. Nuts were traditionally collected for eating and trade and twiggy new growth can be used to build common household products like fish traps, baskets, and baby carriers.
Gardening with Western Hazelnut: This plant is not fussy. Ideally, it prefers part sun/part shade locations with moist, well-drained soils but can tolerate full sun to full shade and summer drought in shady spots. It's a perfect choice for pollinator and woodland gardens. Wind pollinated since insect populations are scarce in winter. Monoecious - which means one plant has both sexes; soft-yellow male catkins that dangle off the tips of leafless branches, and tiny feathery clusters of red female stigmas. Wind pollinated since insect populations are scarce in winter.
Photo Credit 1: "Corylus cornuta ssp. californica" by John Game is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Photo Credit 2: "Corylus cornuta (Beaked Hazel)" by Plant Image Library is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo Credit 3: "California hazelnut (Corylus cornuta californica)" by Franco Folini is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0