Hazel Trees: What Should You Know?

We may confuse the difference between a hazel tree and hazelnut tree. However, they are the same. Hazel trees grow in the Northern Hemisphere in the more temperate regions. Hazel trees are a deciduous tree. Overall, hazel trees are short trees, standing less than 100 feet. The pollen of hazel trees causes allergy symptoms in early spring just as the first frost passes.

There are between 14 and 18 species of hazel trees. Also, the fruit of the hazel tree is the hazelnut. Hazelnuts are edible and enjoyed by many. Additionally, hazelnuts are excellent in baking and even the key ingredient in the popular spread, Nutella.

The wood of hazel trees also has applications. Furthermore, the wood is soft and will bend into fences, baskets, and frames with easy. It even re-generates for a fresh harvest every few years. All in all, we use the hazel tree for the fruit (hazelnut) it produced more than for the actual tree. With its small stature, the timber has limited applications.

So How Many Kinds of Hazel Tree Are There?

Botanists assign between 14 and 18 species of hazel trees to the Corylus genus. The discrepancy centers around categorizing species in eastern Asia. The Corylus genus is part of the birch or Betulaceae family. Also, botanists separate the Corylus genus into four separate groups based on physical characteristics.

The first group contains hazel trees with the hazelnut a short, specialized leaf called an involucre. Additionally, the leaf is soft. They are also multi-stemmed shrubs. All the trees stand below 40 feet in height. The trees in this group are:

  • American Hazel (Corylus americana)
  • Common Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Asian Hazel (Corylus heterophylla)
  • Yunnan Hazel (Corylus yunnanensis)

The second group shares many similar characteristics of the first group. However, the involucre is long in the second group, almost twice the length. The trees in this group are:

  • Colchican filbert (Corylus colchica)
  • Beaked Hazel (Corylus cornuta)
  • Filbert (Corylus maxima)
  • Asian Beaked Hazel (Corylus sieboldiana)

The third group is significantly different than the first two groups. In this case, the hazelnut is protected by spiny involucre. Generally, they stand close to 100 feet in height and are single stemmed. In this group, the spines are less dense around the hazelnut. The trees in this group are:

  • Chinese Hazel (Corylus chinensis)
  • Turkish Hazel (Corylus colurna)
  • Farges’ Hazel (Corylus fargesii)
  • Jacquemont’s Hazel (Corylus jacquemontii)
  • Wang’s Hazel (Corylus wangii)

The fourth and final group shares many characteristics with the third group, but the spiny involucres are dense. The tree in this group is:

  • Himalayan Hazel (Corylus ferox)

How Large Do Hazel Trees Grow?

The height of hazel trees differs from species to species. Some stand closer to 10 feet. According to the USDA, the American hazelnut stands between 3 and 8 feet. Trees, given time to grow, may reach 15 feet in height. Also, the spread reaches 10 feet. Other species of hazel trees grow to 40 feet. While others still grow close to 100 feet in height. However, the most common hazel trees are quite short. Hazel trees grow taller when grown alone. When grown in lines, they stand shorter.

What Does a Hazel Tree Look Like?

Hazel trees show their leaves in early May. They are a striking green with streaks of red. Overall, they have a saw-toothed shape. The leaves are soft and hairy.

Hazelnuts, the fruit of hazel trees, grow with a husk (involucre). All in all, they grow over the summer and fall from the tree in the autumn. When they fall, they turn brown.

hazel nuts

The bark of the hazelnut trees is light brown. Additionally, the bark is smooth and absent of fissures.

Where Can I Find a Hazel Tree?

Hazel trees thrive in a milder climate in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere. While we grow them extensively to farm across the Northern Hemisphere, many do grow in the wild. American hazelnuts grow across the Eastern half of the United States and to the very south in Canada.

Most of Europe also sees the growth of hazel trees. A large portion of hazelnuts that are distributed around the world for consumption are grown in Turkey.

Hazel grows in Asia as well. The countries of China, Korea, Japan, and Siberia all have hazel growing.

How Long Can a Hazel Tree Live?     

Most hazel trees live less than 100 years. On average, the lifespan is closer to 75 years. Although, the farmed hazel live shorter lives. The average lifespan of a commercially planted hazel is 40 years. Overall, hazel grow quickly. Often, a hazel will grow one to two feet a year.

Can I Grow a Hazel Tree?

Hazel trees’ quick growth leads to a quick harvest. Most often, you will collect hazelnuts from your tree as soon as 3 years.

You can choose how to start your hazel. It grows from both seeds and shoots. If you plan to start from a seed, plant your hazelnuts pointed side down. Also, plan to cover your seed with a thick layer of mulch to best protect against a hard winter. In some locations where winters are harsh you may choose to start your seed inside in pots. This will work just fine, but you cannot over-water them.

If you plan to start with a sapling, you will plant it in late winter. Generally, hazel does well when transplanted.

All things considered, hazel desires full sun and soil that is not overly moist. For the first few years, ensure your sapling is well watered, but not waterlogged. Afterwards, they are pretty drought tolerant. American hazelnuts can standalone and produce hazelnuts. However, other species do not share this trait. Other species of hazel need multiples to pollinate.

It is Time to BRANCH out into some fun tree facts!

  • Over 1.1 million hazelnuts are produced each year.
  • A hazel tree symbolizes wisdom and inspiration.
  • The oldest living hazel trees are in Germany and are over 200 years old.

What Are Some Uses for Hazel Trees?

Natural Uses

The leaves of hazel stimulate circulation. Additionally, the consumption of hazelnuts will give you a great yield of protein, fat, vitamin E, and manganese. Many farmers and gardeners use the leaves as fertilizer. The leaves are so high in nutrients that they enrich the soil.

Hazel shrubs make excellent hedges. In fact, they trim easily and grow quite dense. However, growing close together stunts their growth. They reach shorter heights and produce fewer hazelnuts.

Many animals depend on hazel. Not only do birds and small animals like squirrels and mice eat the hazelnuts, but rabbits and other livestock enjoy the leaves and twigs. Furthermore, with their early pollination, bees get an early spring by foraging in them.

We use hazelnut oil and hazelnuts in the cosmetic industry. Different cosmetics and face masks are made from them.

Finally, hazelnuts are a booming agriculture business, especially in Turkey. Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread, is incredibly popular and we often use it as a substitute for children with peanut allergies. There are many other cooking and baking applications for hazelnuts and hazelnut oils.

Artistic Uses

The Celts hold hazel in high regards. Consuming hazelnuts gave you wisdom and inspiration. After all, the Celts mention the hazel throughout many folklore stories and mythology. Grimms’ Fairy Tales mention hazel as an excellent protector against snakes.

With the high regard for hazel, the Celts add hazel in their artwork. Hazel shoots were “wishing wands” and many sewed hazels into sleeping caps for wonderful dreams.

In Ancient Rome, witnesses burned hazel torches to ensure a happy marriage at a wedding and were associated with fertility. However, the Celts did not allow women to collect hazelnuts on Sunday, and this would curse them.

Residential/Commercial Uses

We rarely use hazel wood in large applications. However, over the centuries, many used the shoots for baskets and woven fences. Cutting shoots of hazel (or coppicing) is very healthy for the tree and promotes further growth. The cut wood burns well as firewood. Also, we turn hazel wood into walking sticks, fishing rods and tool handles. At the same time, hazel wood use is limited in commercial and residential settings. It will not stand up to weight, pressure, or elements well.

Wrap Up

The hazel trees greatest claim to fame is its hazelnuts. Farmers produce over 1.1 million hazelnuts every year for commercial sale. Not only are hazelnuts consumed raw, but people will also roast and grind them. Animals even enjoy hazelnuts for their protein and nutrition. Overall, they do not live long lives. Finding a hazel over 40 years old is incredibly difficult. Many ancient societies from the Celts, Greeks, and Romans hold hazel with special significance. While the wood is not used to build houses, we find uses for it.

Finally, they are not tall trees, but make excellent hedges. There are only a handful of species in this genus. The actual number is up for debate for some Asian species. If you plan to grow your own, hazel trees grow easily as they are not over watered. Generally speaking, the hazel tree is a wonderful addition to your backyard as a hedge or as a hazelnut producer.

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