Identifying a Hazel Tree
The tree will grow to about 12m tall and can live for around 80 years if left to grow on its own accord. Hazel’s are usually coppiced to increase their life expectancy and can live for up to 700 years if coppiced. The smooth bark is greyish to brown in colour and begins to peel with age. The stems are hairy and flexible with hairy, rounded leaf buds which are blunt. Leaves are green, hairy and rounded with multiple teeth like pointed tips; these turn yellow before they fall off the tree during autumn.
Hazel trees have monoecious reproductive systems, which mean that the male and the female catkins (flowers) are located within the same tree, they must however be pollinated by other hazel flower pollen. The male catkins are yellow and hang in bunches on the twigs; they appear earlier than the leaves during February. The small female flowers are like buds and are red in colour. The female flowers are pollinated by wind and turn into rounded fruits; these hang in clusters of one to four. Once matured, they develop into nuts enclosed in a shell which is surrounded by leaf bracts.
Interesting fact: in spring, the hazel twigs are so bendy they can be knotted without breaking.
It is also challenging for bees to collect pollen from the hazel tree and they can only collect it in small loads. The reason being is the pollen grains aren’t sticky and will repel each other.
Significance to Wildlife and Surroundings
The tree provides plant food for caterpillars from numerous moths including the small white wave, nut-tree tussock, large emerald and the barred umber. Coppiced hazel in managed woodlands, where wildflowers are in abundance, help support life for lots of species of butterfly especially fritillaries. They also support lots of ground-nesting birds like the yellowhammer, nightingale and willow warbler as they frequently use the tree for shelter.
Dormice have been associated with the hazel tree for many centuries and they can also be known as hazel dormouse. It provides a good source of hibernation food for the mice and they will also eat the leaves.
There are many species of wildlife that make use of the hazel nuts apart from dormice; these include wood pigeons, woodpeckers, tits, jays, nuthatches and a few small mammals such as squirrels. Bees also extract pollen from the flowers and are an early and important source for them.
The trunk is often home to many types of liverworts, mosses and lichens. Fungus also grows below the soil.
How We Use hazel
The wood from hazel can be bent and knotted and was used for making things like net stakes, thatching spars, water divining sticks and furniture.
Now day’s coppiced hazel plays an important role in conserving British woodland habitats for many different types of wildlife. We also use the timber for many purposes and a poplar wood for making bean poles and pea sticks, which are used by gardeners.
Hazel trees were also grown for their nuts, on a large scale, right up until the early 1900s. There are cultivated versions still being grown in Kent, these are known by the name of cob-nuts. Today, nearly all of our hazelnuts are imported from other countries.
Threats, Pests and Diseases
There are not that many threats pests or diseases associated with the hazel, although they can come under attack from infestations of aphids and gall mites. Coppiced trees can also be prone to damage from deer if there not protected sufficiently.