by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazel is a deciduous shrub with multiple stems, and it can grow to six meters, that is to say about twenty foot, tall.

It has a smooth, brown-grey bark that splits and flakes with age and turns browner. The leaves are distinctive round, slightly hairy, pointed-tipped and the tree bears yellow catkins (male flowers) in early spring, while the female flowers look more like leaf buds with red styles protruding from the tip.

The edible nuts, held in green, leafy cups, turn brown when ripe though more often than not you will not get a looking in on the nuts as the Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), that woodland pest, will have harvested those nuts well before they ever turn brown.

Hazel is found throughout the British Isles in woodland, scrub and hedgerows and is also a common tree in the woods on the European mainland.

Hazel was grown in the UK for large- scale nut production until the early 1900s and it is an important food source for the hazel dormouse, which eats the caterpillars it finds on the leaves and the nuts to fatten up for winter. The flowers are a vital source of early nectar for bumblebees.

The nuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits, wood pigeons, jays and other native mammals such as the red squirrel,

wood mouse, yellow-necked mouse and bank vole. But unfortunately also by that imported vermin called the gray squirrel and he seems to get there before anyone else.

Hazel has symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with a number of fungi including the fiery milkcap (Lactarius pyrogalus), which appears in autumn and Hazel gloves, Hypocreopsis rhododendri, is a rare fungus that grows only with hazel in Britain.

Hazel forms pure woods on the west coast of the UK that are home to rare lichens.

It is the stick of choice for water diviners and in Scotland, hazel nuts were processed on a large scale in Mesolithic times – evidence of this was found in a midden pit during an archaeological dig.

Hazel is used for making hurdles, and wattle and daub walls and it was once used for making tally sticks to record payments to the Exchequer. Sticks from the hazel are also a choice for many a stick maker and they also make great cudgels and other tools.

In fact Hazel is one of the real versatile trees of the woodlands of this country especially when managed by means of coppicing as it has such a variety of uses, depending of the size of sticks harvested.

Coppiced hazel stick are also – or they used to – be the choice of the gardener and grower for use as bean poles, pea sticks and others plant supports. Alas today most of our plant supports are from bamboo coming from China and the claims for and of sustainability as to those over wooden poles do not hold up at all.

Native beats imports any day in the sustainability scale and hazel, coppiced hazel, is at the very top of that scale.

© 2013