Western Hazelnut

Corylus cornuta californica

Catkins on Corylus cornuta (beaked hazel) in winter.
Catkins on Corylus cornuta (beaked hazel) in winter.

Native Plant

Plant Category   Perennial shrub
Flowering Time   Winter, Spring
Fruiting Time   Late Summer, Fall
Planting Time   Fall
Where to Plant   Edges or open spaces in forested woodland, native gardens
Soil and Light   Part sun
Companion Plants   Various Manzanitas Coastal Redwood, (Sequoia Sempervirons), Red Alder (Alnus rubra), Madrone (Arbutus menziesii), Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), Oaks (Quercus sp.), Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica), Buckeye (Aesculus californica), Coffee Berry (Frangula sp.), Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), Yerba Buena, Satureja douglasii
Wildlife   Hummingbirds Birds, Bees, Butterflies, Moths, +50 likely different species species

Western Hazelnut

Corylus cornuta californica

The western hazelnut is a powerhouse resource for our native fauna. It supports 45 species of butterflies and moths, and its rich little nuts, encased in a spikey husk are a favorite of California grey squirrels and Steller's Jays.

Native birds prefer to build their nests in native trees, and the crotches of the hazelnut are no exception. Flocks of chestnut-backed Chickadees and dark-eyed (Oregon) Juncos like them as cover and perches.

About the time nuts begin to ripen in late spring and early summer, male catkins form on branches in tight green clumps. In the fall, the leaves of the Corylus turn butterscotch yellow and drift down, carpeting the forest floor and exposing the catkins, which have lengthened into graceful brown strands, bringing the peaceful feeling of a Japanese garden to the forest.  In late winter and early spring, the catkins release clouds of pollen, a reminder to look for the tiny red female blossoms hidden on the branches waiting to be fertilized.

This native shrub is slow growing but long-lived, growing in an upright but drooping, willowy form to a height of 10-18 feet.

Corylus is a versatile addition to the native garden.

  • It grows best in full to part sun and moist, well-drained soil but is drought tolerant.
  • They can be grown as small trees or open shrubs for a restricted space by pruning back new growth for the desired look.
  • Pruning for shape should be done in winter when plants are dormant and before nesting season begins.
  • An important fact to remember when pruning for shape is that it fruits on the previous year's twigs.

As an understory shrub in the wild, Corylus will form undulating rows through the mixed evergreen redwood forest. Its preference for the edge or open spaces in the forest is an important protective feature for redwoods. In the advancing heat of a fire, its leaves turn to ash, and its green branches do not tend to burn. Fire kills the aboveground portion of the shrub, but it re-sprouts readily from its root crown. It recovered after a fire to the extent that Native Americans used fire to encourage its growth. Plants were burned to the ground every five years to maintain nut productivity.

Use in hedgerows of native trees and shrubs should be given thought. Native trees are resistant to fire and an excellent alternative to the fuel of drying wooden fences. If there is an existing fence, consider beginning to plant a hedgerow in front, allowing for its removal once the hedgerow has matured.

Video: Fred & Roberta McPherson.