Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazel is a deciduous shrub that grows up to about 6 metres high. It has several stems and is often found growing under the woodland canopy but is also commonly used for hedging.

The male flowers are long drooping catkins, the female flowers look like small upright red buds. The hazel is wind pollinated, with pollen travelling from the male catkins to the female
flowers. Hazel nuts eventually develop in clusters of one to four nuts.

Hazel stems are traditionally coppiced (cut to the ground to encourage more shoots to grow) as a source of twigs and sticks.These have been used for making hurdles, supporting climbing
plants like beans, and cask hoops, basketry, walking sticks and thatching.They also make excellent firewood.

Hazelnuts are a tasty source of food and in the past were an important source of protein – they were often ground up and mixed with flour to be made into nourishing breads. Hazelnuts are also relished by squirrels, mice, pigeons, pheasants and jays.

There are five species of moths which are specialist feeders on hazel, including a narrowwinged leaf miner whose larvae live under a folded down leaf edge.


The Celts believed that hazelnuts were a source of wisdom – an ancient Irish tale of nine hazel trees that grew around a sacred pool, tells of how salmon living in the pool ate the falling nuts and absorbed the wisdom.The number of bright spots on the salmon’s skin showed how many nuts they had eaten.

Hazel trees were cultivated by the Romans and because they were so plentiful in Scotland, they called the country by the latinised name Caledonia, which comes from Cal-dun which
means ‘Hills of Hazel’. In Scotland, an old custom of love divination still takes place on Halloween. Two hazelnuts are placed on burning embers, if they burn quietly, and remain side by side the two people they represent are well-matched.