Corylus avellana, European filbert

February 22, 2014

Into your garden you can walk

And with each plant and flower talk;

View all their glories, from each one

Raise some rare meditation.

John Rea

If one might be contemplating a winter meditation, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, Harry Lauder’s walking stick could offer inspirational focus with its unusual, fabulous, branching habit. Resulting from a natural mutation of Corylus avellana, European filbert, this is a small tree displaying artistic, spiraling and twisted branches, twigs, and leaves that recall animation, or even Dr. Seuss. Corylus, the genus name, is derived from the Greek word (Korylos) for hazelbush, and there are 14-18 species, depending on taxonomic interpretation, found throughout the temperate Northern hemisphere.  Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) named this species avellana, which comes from the town of Avella, in southern Italy.  All Corylus are in the BETULACEAE, the birch family. Corylus avellana, European filbert, the parent species of this contorted beauty, is a large shrub or small tree, which is renowned for its small nuts (cobnuts). Even in our country, there are large orchards of these grown for nut production. Historically, its wood was extensively used for basketry, fishing rods, wattle and daub framing, walking sticks, and the mystical, Y-shaped, divining rods.

In England in the 1860’s, along a hedgerow of Corylus avellana was found one plant with unique, contorted growth. A sharp-eyed Victorian gardener took cuttings of this, and propagated it into the cultivated variety named, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. Later in the 20-century it received its common name, Harry Lauder’s walking stick.  Harry Lauder (1870-1950) was a popular Scottish music hall entertainer, knighted by a king, known to carry a crooked walking stick. All Corylus have separate sexed flowers occurring on the same plant. The male catkins are 3-4-inches-long, pendulous, slim, and consist only of stamens, maturing in late March/early April to produce a visible puff of pollen when shaken. The shorter, thicker, less conspicuous, female flowers are highlighted by their emerging, intense-reddish, ¼-inch, threadlike stigmas, the sticky parts on which pollen may land.  Nut production on Harry Lauder’s walking stick is frequently non-existent.  This small tree often only grows 6 to 8-feet-tall, and wide, but even with this diminutive size, it is a true connoisseur’s choice, especially notable in winter.  On your next visit to Mount Auburn, look for our Harry Lauder’s walking stick in the Ruggiero Memorial Garden, along the northern edge of Willow Pond.

Corylus avellana Contorta leaves

…Amid yon tuft of hazel trees,

That twinkle to the gusty breeze,

Behold him perched in ecstasies,

Yet seeming still to hover;…

                                William Wordsworth

Corylus avellana Contorta female flw

I went out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout….

                                William Butler Yeats

Corylus avellana (8)

Boon nature scattered, free and wild,

Each plant and flower, the mountain’s child.

Here eglantine embalmed the air,

Hawthorn and hazel mingled there;…

                                 Sir Walter Scott

Corylus avellana Contorta H

…Mellow the blackbird sang and sharp the thrush

Not far off in the oak and hazel brush,…

                                Edward Thomas

Corylus avellana (10)

…Patches of moss and lichen, the occasional

Undergrowth of hazel and holly, was he aware

Of all this? On the contrary his unawareness

Was a kind of gratification, a sense of comfort…

                                Hayden Carruth

Corylus avellana Contorta Willow Pond

The catkin from the hazel swung

when you and I and March were young.

The flute-notes dripped from liquid May

through silver nights and golden day.

The harvest moon rose round and red

when habit came and wonder fled.

October rusted into gold

when you and I and love grew old.

Snow lay on hedgerows of December

then, when we could no more remember.

But the green flush was on the larch

when other loves we found in March.

                            Vita Sackville-West


About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →


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