The Promise of Spring (or Why I Love Beaked Hazelnut)

January is the waiting season in the wildlife garden. 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.

Beaked hazelnut catkins, January 2014.

Beaked hazelnut catkins, January 2014.

When Erik and I first slogged through the knee-deep mud in what would eventually be the backyard wildlife garden 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.

Next fall's squirrel food.

Next fall’s squirrel food.

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.

The Beaked Hazlenut 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 wildlife garden, 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 in my wildlife garden, I have rows and rows of potted beaked 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 Beaked 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.

Beaked hazelnut flowers will peek out in late February.

Beaked hazelnut flowers will peek out in late February.

The leaves sprout;

The nuts slowly plump.

In August, the feeding frenzy.

Leaves fade from green to lemon

And fall.

Now I’m getting all poetic. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing. But hey, if you need a beaked hazelnut shrub for your wildlife garden, holler. I’ve got a few to spare.

Free to a good home--hazelnut seedling.

Free to a good home–hazelnut seedling.

© 2014, Christy Peterson. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Cora Howlett says

    Christy, thank you for your offer…of your extra sprouts to plant. But I just ordered 3 good sized bare root hazelnuts this past fall…got them planted and am awaiting the sprouts you mention in your post. Hope they will grow well and in a couple more years feed my squirrels and other wildlife. And they might even share some of the nuts with me.

    • Kim Sedgwick says

      Oh I love your hazelnut seedling post! I would LOVE one. I don’t know if you can send me one in the mail though? Maybe. :)) I am in Illinois

  2. says

    I planted a bare root hazelnut shrub two years ago. I am pretty sure not much is happening yet but this is great news! Something to see in Jan/Feb! I hope the Blue Jays and squirrels will be just as appreciative as yours. Looking forward to Spring …

  3. Nancy Kurul says

    Pick me! Pick me! I would love a hazelnut shrub (if appropriate for Zone 8 Coastal NC). My husband’s family has a hazelnut farm (in Turkey) and I would love to surprise him with one! I know it won’t be the same plant, but I would love it just the same!

  4. michele says

    Oh my gosh! I’d love a seedling, or even a seed I could plant myself! Great article, lots of info & good ideas!

  5. says

    would love to have hazelnut seedlings to re-wild the mountains that industry is taking apart for coal/gas/oil.. so sad. i have helped found a community land trust, which hold in trust 150 aces for an outdoor class room. this mountain has impacts of industry and local farming. the hazelnut seedlings are part of edge forest and a wonderful asset in a food forest as well. i also know local people who would love to have several just for their yardens.. we are re-connecting gardens and yards with this word. there are some hazelnuts trees growing here, just that they are harder and harder to fin,

  6. says

    Oh, you all are very sweet. I’d love to give seedlings to all, but I’m not sure I am adept enough to ship plants around the country! ;-) I’ll just have to settle with encouraging you all to find natives in your yard to share around!
    Christy Peterson recently posted..Signs of Spring

  7. Nancy Kurul says

    My husband grew up on a hazelnut farm in Turkey. Would love to have a couple of your seedlings, for my wildlife gardens, but understand you don’t have enough to satisfy everyone’s desires! Thanks for the article!


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