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.
Wildife Gardening Tips:
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