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This small shrub grows up to 10 feet (3 m) under good conditions. Male flowers appear in the form of small catkins in fall, pollinating tiny red female flowers in the spring. This is our only nut-bearing native shrub, producing large round nuts, covered with bright green bristly husks that form a long “beak”. The nuts may grow singly, but more often are found in clumps of 2-3. Leaves are alternate, toothed and bright green. Buds are small and round, on slender twigs. The bark is light brown, often with a white striping.
Often found in the forest understory and along the edges of forests, hazelnut tolerates fairly heavy shade, especially from tall, old trees. It grows best and produces more fruit in full sun. Hazelnut prefers well-drained soil, but can grow on the edges of wet sites.
Transplanting small root suckers from larger plants can be done quite successfully with a moderate amount of care. Seed is the best route for more than a few plants, but it is not easy. Red squirrels seem to come out of nowhere just before the nuts are ripe and strip the shrub. Collect nuts when husks are starting to turn brown, although they usually don’t last long. Find an area with lots of shrubs bearing nuts and race the squirrels. Keep nuts in a dry place for a few days and remove the husks. Nuts are best planted in a bed that can be screened with wire mesh small enough to keep out squirrels. No matter what you do, germination will probably be low. Despite this, it is still a very worthwhile shrub to grow.
As you would expect, the nuts are rich in protein and fat and favorites of red squirrels and chipmunks. They are also a preferred food source of ruffed grouse, ring-necked pheasant, hairy woodpecker and blue jay. The buds in winter and catkins in spring are a valuable protein source for ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare and American woodcock. Snowshoe hare heavily browse young shoots during the winter.
Areas of Usage:
This is another good choice for an understory shrub when rebuilding forests, or just to add to a wooded area lacking diversity. Like many shrubs, hazelnut plays an important role in nutrient cycling within a forest. Its leaves are rich in calcium and manganese and help fertilize nearby trees and other plants. This attractive shrub is useful for plantings around the home where some shade and protection are available. The nuts are tasty and in the past were much more commonly eaten by humans. Since it does not tolerate much wind, hazelnut grows poorly in open windbreaks, but can be used along streambanks.
The Beaked Hazel-nut is found in scattered patches through-out the province. It is a small shrub growing from two to six feet high and seldom exceeding an inch in diameter. The trunk is usually straight and slender often whip-like. The ascending branches form a founded-crown. It prefers a rich sandy-clay loam but will grow on poorer sites. It is often associated with our sugar maple and yellow birch but it also grows with mostly all other hardwoods. The wood, although moderately hard and flexible is of no commerical importance due to its size. The nuts are edible.