One of our first flowering shrubs to bloom are the Hazelnuts and Filberts (Corylus spp.). Their flowers are not very ornamental but that is where the tasty nuts begin. We have one native species, the American Hazel (C. americana), found wild and it has delicious nuts if you can beat the squirrels to them. The classic Hazelnut (C. avellana) and the Filbert (C. maxima) are both from Europe. They are hybridized into quite an array of cultivars so they are pretty much interchangeable. We have about three dozen plants in the Heartland Harvest Garden nursery scheduled to be moved to the new garden. We have had them for several years and already have learned which do well here. The native hazelnut is bred into the hybrids for disease resistance and adaptability to our wild climate.
Hazelnuts have separate male and female flowers on each shrub. The female flower of the Hazelnut is depicted above. Yep, that reddish, spider-looking thing at the tip of the "bud" is it! It looks like a foliage bud but is actually the female catkin comprised of the stigma's of the pistils out to grab pollen blowing on the wind. The hazelnut or filbert fruit will develop from this catkin over the summer.
The male flowers are also beginning to bloom! They are classic catkins as hazelnuts are in the birch family (Betulaceae). Catkins are produced the prior season and hang dormant (see the left one of the three in the picture) through the winter. In early spring they "bloom" by elongating and producing pollen to blow off in the wind. If you tap them a cloud of yellow pollen dust will be released. A shrub in full bloom with catkins is actually quite interesting looking; as if adorned with golden strings.
Now you know where your hazelnut comes from! Think of it next time you enjoy them in your coffee, chocolates or just in wholesome raw form.
Photographs taken by Alan Branhagen in the Heartland Harvest Garden Nursery on March 20, 2008.