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Hazel

Latin: Corylus avellana

Native words: Old Irish (coll) Scots Gaelic (calltuinn) Old English (haesel) Welsh (colleen) eastern Celtic ()

Ogham sign: C

Height when mature: 4-6m (13-20ft)

Height after 10 years: 3-4m

Hazel botanical description:

One of the smallest native tree species, hazel grows more like a shrub than a tree, only growing to approximately 20 feet when mature. The bark of hazel trees is dark brown and smooth in young trees and cracked on mature trees specimens Its leaves are comparatively large and round with a distinctive point. They are double toothed, with each tooth bearing a smaller one, and leaves are held on a short stalk. The leaves are slightly hairy to the touch and have a wrinkled appearance when fully out. In February, the beautiful male catkins, resembling lambs tails, which have been growing since the previous autumn start to shed yellow pollen. The nuts, which begin pale green, develop from the female catkins which lie further back on branches and resemble green buds. They have a red tip to them known as ‘styles’.

Hazel natural history and ancient wisdom:

If you visit many ancient woods today, you will find under the canopy of large trees such as oak, ash and wych elm, they are dominated by hazel. However, for centuries many were dominated by hazel with only a few standard tall trees for protection. The reason for this was simple; coppicing. Hazel is the best tree for coppicing and the rods cut from the resulting shoots were used in numerous situations. House builders wove hazel rods together before covering them with mud in the process known as ‘wattle and daub’. Hazel was woven into hurdles for fencing, made into fish traps, used for thatching poles and is still used to stake hedges after laying. Much was burnt to make charcoal. At Tudeley Woods in Kent before the First World War, 900 men were fully employed coppicing hazel and stacking the burners with the wood before carting it to London to supply houses with fuel. With the decline in coppicing in many woods, hazel is being shaded out by invading sycamore, oaks and ash. It can only produce pollen in strong light and so is beginning to be replaced in woods Hazel nuts, which supplied a key part of the diet for early British peoples are still utilised in many foods, including chocolate bars! Hazel still often appears in hedgerows across lowland Britain and can be recognised by their leaves and catkins, although they need to be left to grow to fruit; another reason for wide, tall hedgerows! The nuts and wood of hazel trees were an important ingredient in Irish and Welsh lore. The hazel nuts of wisdom were supposed to grow at the head of the 7 rivers of Ireland and at holy wells such as the well of Segais. Hazel rods were used to make witches wands and are still used to divine water sources. They were also placed in burial mounds; possibly as because they were used as to make houses, and burial sites were “houses of the dead”. The salmon of knowledge, who also fed on rowan berries, ate hazel nuts. He was eventually trapped by the greatest of all heroes Fionn mac Cumhaill (son of the hazel).

Hazel place names in the UK:

Hazel hurst “hazel wood” (throughout England) Haslemere (Surrey) lake where hazels grew’, Hazelwood (Derbyshire) Hazleton (Gloucestershire), Haswell (Durham) ‘well where hazels grew’

Hazel wildlife rating:

Nuts are excellent food for red squirrels; unfortunately greys will strip trees; only areas free of greys will escape. This is contributing to the decline in hazel as few of its seeds are germinating. Nightingales thrive in coppiced hazel woods in southern England. The decline of hazel coppices is one of the reasons for the loss of Nightingales. Coppiced hazels offer many more insects than redundant trees, and are home to moths such as the Buff Tip and Large Emerald. Warblers and other migrating birds benefit from the increased food supply.

Hazel good points/ bad points:

Not growing too large, hazel is a good tree for hedging or to grow on it own in the garden. The male catkins light up any scene in late winter. Excellent if you want wildlife rich woodland.