Many people may not know that we have a wild American hazelnut (Corylus americana) that produces a nut very much like the one that is so popular roasted and salted or in chocolate treats like Nutella. It is not very common in the Indiana Dunes but can be found growing in some of our black oak savannas like Miller Woods.
In full to part sun and moist (but not soggy) to dry soils, American hazelnut can become an attractive part of your garden or landscape. Hazelnut is a rounded, multi-stemmed shrub that grows 8 to 16 feet. The double-toothed, dark green leaves of the hazelnut turn from orange to red or purple in the fall. Spread by suckers, hazelnuts can form clumps over time. .
Hazelnut has separate male and female flowers growing on the same plant. Both types of flowers occur in “catkins” or cylindrical, usually dangling, flower structures. Many trees have catkins. You will see their somewhat worm-like flowering structure littering the ground beneath our oaks or cottonwoods in the early summer. The male catkin on a hazelnut is attractive, two to three inches long and yellowish brown while the female catkin is considerably less conspicuous, small and reddish brown.
From the female catkin comes the one half inch edible nut that matures in July and August and appears tightly wrapped in ragged, leafy bracts. The nuts of American hazelnut are very nutritious and attract a wide range of wildlife including squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, deer, wild mice, bobwhite quail, turkey, woodpeckers, and many other birds. The dense, low growth habit also provides cover and nesting sites for wildlife.
If you wish to plant the native American hazelnut, make sure to look for Corylus americana. The European species is Corylus avellana and a number of cultivars of this species are widely sold. The interesting ornamental “contorted” hazelnut and hazelnuts developed for increased nut production are all derived from the European species. Even the very American sounding “Jefferson” hazelnut is European.
The American hazelnut can be purchased by mail order or through native plant nurseries like Cardno in Walkerton or Naturally Native Nursery in South Bend.
If you have questions about hazlenut or other native or non-native plants, don’t hesitate to contact Terry Bonace (firstname.lastname@example.org), Candice Smith (email@example.com), or Bill Schaudt (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance. Also please explore our website, www.bserg.org, for further information on invasive plants and native replacements.