The American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is native throughout much of the eastern two thirds of the U.S. It grows in full sun to part shade, but produces more nuts in full sun, and will tolerate a wide variety of soils. This native shrub often forms multi-trunked thickets and can be 5-10 feet tall.
American hazelnuts bloom in the early spring, typically March to April in Kentucky. Each shrub produces two types of flowers – male and female flowers. The female flowers are small, easily overlooked, and mostly enclosed by leaf-like structures called bracts. The male flowers are larger, and hang down from the branches in clusters called catkins. Male flowers cannot pollinate female flowers on the same plant – female flowers can only be fertilized by pollen from a different plant.
Because American hazelnuts are wind pollinated, they don’t produce any nectar. However, bees will sometimes gather the abundant pollen from the male flowers, even though they do not play a role in pollinating American hazelnuts. The foliage is also eaten by several different species of moth caterpillars. Those caterpillars and / or the moths they become provide food for songbirds, bats, parasitoid wasps, and many other types of wildlife.
Fertilized female flowers produce hazelnuts. Our native hazelnuts are smaller and sweeter than the exotic species cultivated for commercial sales. The hazelnuts can be eaten raw, cooked, or ground into flour and used for baking. Historically, Native Americans would use hazelnuts to flavor soups. Hazelnuts are high in protein and very nutritious. They are also a valuable food source for many different types of wildlife including deer, turkeys, squirrels, woodpeckers, quail, grouse, blue jays, and many others.
American hazelnuts can be planted in landscaped settings. Smaller trunks can be trimmed out to give the plant a more managed appearance or they can be left to grow into thickets. The fall foliage from an American hazelnut can range from greenish yellow to red to purple. If you want your plant to produce fruit, then you must plant at least two American hazelnuts and 3-5 is better in case one dies. Planting quite a few American hazelnuts also gives you a better chance at being able to harvest at least some of the nuts before the squirrels and other wildlife devour them all.
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.
Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.