January is the waiting season. It’s almost a month into winter, and the light is slowly returning. Still, every bone still says—quiet—rest—sleep—wait.
Something is stirring in the garden though—something that was enough to drag me out of the warm house. Hazelnut catkins.
When Erik and I first slogged through the knee-deep mud in what would eventually be the backyard of our 9,000+ square foot lot, the only signs of plant life were a few weeds, a huge, ancient apple tree just on the other side of the fence, an Oregon grape plant, and a couple straggly beaked hazelnut shrubs.
Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) is a shrub native to North America—particularly the west coast, parts of Canada, and the northeast and mid-Atlantic. They are shrubby in habit; the USDA plant description uses the term “colonial thicket” to describe their multiple stems. Their acorn-like nuts have been used as a food source for people and wildlife alike (although most of today’s commercial orchards do not use the native trees).
In my backyard, the nuts are adored by squirrels and jays. The annual crop sparks a feeding frenzy that leaves a carpet of shells under the trees. A few of these nuts get hidden away for future snacking.
You see where this is going, don’t you? From those original scraggly trees, a host of sprouts has arisen. Thanks to a few industrious squirrels, I have dug seedling after seedling, tucking them here and there around the yard. Now that I am officially out of room for new shrubs, I have rows and rows of potted hazelnuts, just waiting for new homes.
The sight out the window today reminded me why I am so sentimental about this unassuming shrub. In the dark of winter, when it is gray and rainy and cold, the hazelnut catkins start to stre-e-e-e-e-t-ch. They promise new life at a time when everything else seems bleak.
After the catkins have stretched to their full length, teeny, tiny red flowers appear.
The leaves sprout;
The nuts slowly plump.
In August, the feeding frenzy.
Leaves fade from green to lemon
Now I’m getting all poetic. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing. But hey, if you need a hazelnut shrub for your wildlife garden, holler. I’ve got a few to spare.
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