The Hazelnut Family

The Hazelnut Family

Hazelnuts (Corylus sp.) are a family of small trees and shrubs known for their delicious nuts.

Although commercially available hazelnuts are derived from the Eurasian native Common Hazel (Corylus avellana), there are two native North American hazelnut species, the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) and the Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta), which are also edible and delicious, but less suited for cultivation due to their lower productivity and smaller nut. Because the delicate Common Hazel can only be grown domestically in the Pacific Northwest, some American plant breeders have also crossed European and American hazelnut species in an attempt to produce a hazelnut combining the higher nut quality and quantity of the European species with the greater hardiness and disease resistance of the native American species. Some of the resulting hybrids are now available from nurseries.

Hybrid hazelnuts are also one of the plants used in current research into woody agriculture, a perennial agricultural system that uses coppiced hazels and chestnuts to produce food and biomass for human use.

In addition to their widespread use by humans for praline, Nutella, candies, and many other delicious treats, hazelnuts are also an excellent wildlife plant. Among the animals that enjoy the nuts are wild turkeys, pheasants, whitetail deer, squirrels, and woodpeckers, as well as domestic pigs and some poultry. The catkins are enjoyed by ruffed grouse and turkey.

Hazelnuts provide good cover for birds and are excellent additions to hedgerows, windbreaks, and woodlots, yet ornamental enough to use in home landscapes.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/steffenz/2080578170/