Species of the month: February - Hazel Catkins

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Common Name: Hazel

Scientific Name: Corylus avellana

Identification: At this time of year, the hazel tree produces long, creamy yellow, pendulous catkins (sometimes called ‘lambs’ tails’) which make them quite distinct. Catkins are the male flowers and are easily spotted; get closer to the tree, and you may be able to find the miniscule female flowers, which look like deep pinky-red tentacles emerging from a bud. Hazel trees are most often found coppiced, with multiple stems growing up from the base. In the summer, they have large, rounded leaves, with toothed edges and a pointed tip, which are soft to the touch.

Growth: A hazel tree growing as a ‘standard’ (left to grow naturally into a classic tree shape) will reach up to 12m in height. Mostly, though, you will find hazel trees that have been ‘coppiced’: the stem of the tree has been cut back to just above the ground, and a cluster of new stems grow from around the stump.

Wildlife value: As hazel is a native British tree, it has great importance to wildlife which it has evolved alongside. In particular, coppiced hazel supports a huge wealth of species. Coppiced woodlands provide excellent open spaces for wildflowers, which in turn attracts butterflies and other pollinating insects. The caterpillars of some moths eat the leaves of hazel, and many birds and small mammals find nesting spots and shelter amongst hazel stems.

Hazelnuts are an important food source for a variety of creatures including wood mice and nuthatches, and of course, the hazel dormouse. The catkins are a source of pollen early in the year for insects such as bumblebees. Hazel can also support lichens, mosses and fungi – a true ecosystem supported by one tree!

Where can they be found?: Ashley Wood near Tarrant Keyneston, Killwood near Corfe Castle, and Brackett’s Coppice near Corscombe in west Dorset are all Dorset Wildlife Trust reserves where you can find hazel trees.

  • A standard hazel tree will live to only about 80 years old. However, if a hazel is coppiced, it can live for hundreds of years!

  • Coppiced hazel products have been used by people for thousands of years in everything from furniture to fences, thatching spars and pea sticks!

  • Hazel twigs were used as ‘dowsing’ or ‘water divining’ rods; hundreds of years ago people would hold a y-shaped stick (or two separate twigs) and walk across land looking for water. The sticks would supposedly dip to indicate the presence of water underground. However there is no scientific evidence to support that they work!

Wildife Gardening Tips:

  • Grow a hazel tree in your garden! This native species supports a huge array of wildlife, from insects to birds and mammals and even fungi and lichens.

  • Incorporate hazel into a mixed-native hedgerow; hazel is a perfect hedge species that lays well and supports an abundance of wild species

  • Coppice (cut at the base) your hazel on an interval of 6-10 years to promote regrowth and greater lifespan; the cut hazel can then be used in many different ways.

Let us know if you've seen a tree with Hazel Catkins below...

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