We truly missed the presence and availability of all hazelnuts for the decade or so beginning in the mid-1990s, when the virulent Eastern Filbert Blight made a serious threat to the orchards in the Willamette Valley, and resulted in quarantine of all Corylus, preventing their transport and sale. Time, careful application of specific fungicides and propagation of new, blight-resistant varieties eventually resulted in the successful level of control over the disease. Though the native Corylus is thought to not be susceptible to the disease, it was covered by the quarantine as a precautionary measure.
The straight species, Corylus cornuta, is native across much of the US and Canada, but it is the C. cornuta var. californica that is the more specifically native to the west coast, from California up into British Columbia, found in low-to-mid elevation woodlands on both sides of the Cascades.
C. cornuta californica is a rounded, open and graceful deciduous shrub, growing 6-12’ tall and possibly wider, depending on how freely it is allowed to sucker and spread. In the winter, it is tinseled with long, creamy white catkins before the leaves emerge, and before any other woody plants are waking up, so that it is a beautiful and striking presence in the late winter garden.
The pollen from these catkins eventually drifts to the tiny red wisps of flowers that cling along the stems, which eventually become the pairs of edible hazlenuts covered in bright green husks that extend beyond the ends of the nuts in “beaks” that give the common name. The leaves that later emerge are oval to rounded, lightly toothed, similar in appearance to Alder or Birch leaves. In the autumn, they turn to yellow, occasionally to orange.
This is a good choice for a partly shady location that receives regular water, but that is also well-drained. Grow it in a large container or be sure to amend clay soil very well before planting.
Graceful, three-season-beautiful, edible to wildlife and humans alike, virtually pest and disease free and a size that is appropriate for most garden settings – we are so happy to be able to have it available again!
Common name: Western Hazel, Beaked Hazel
Native Range: In wooded areas from California to British Columbia, both sides of the Cascades.
Characteristics: long, dangling catkins appear in winter, before the leaves and before any other dormant woody plants’ emerging growth. Pollen attaches itself to tiny little reddish female florets along the stem, that later develop into edible hazelnuts. Leaves are broad and toothed, similar to alder, turning yellow in the fall. Usually grows as a tall, multi-stemmed shrub, or can be trained as an open-growing small tree.
Culture: Grows best in moist but well-drained, part-shade location.
Pests/Diseases: Virtually pest and disease free (studies at OSU have determined that the native Corylus is not susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight)