Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Hazelnut
Nature Bulletin No. 128   October 25, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

When grandpa was a boy, one of his pastimes in autumn was to gather hazelnuts.

The hazel, a member of the birch family, is a shrub that grows in clumps or dense thickets from 3 to 5 feet high ordinarily, and usually in clearings, pastures and old fields. Modern "clean farming" practices have almost wiped out the hazel from the Corn Belt of the middle west, but it is still common in hilly country such as our Palos forest preserves where it adds color and character to the landscape. Hazel thickets furnish excellent cover for rabbits and birds, and food for squirrels and chipmunks.

A peculiarity of the plant is that the male flowers -- dangling catkins that grow to be about 2 inches long--appear in the fall, hang on all winter, and bear pollen in early spring when the female flowers appear on the tips of the twigs. These female flowers are very inconspicuous but may be recognized by their tiny red centers. The pollen is carried to them by the wind and from them develop the hazelnuts. The nuts, which grow to be about one-half inch in diameter, occur singly or in small clusters, each nut enclosed in two ruffled leaf-like cups called "bracts". When the nuts turn from white to the rich brown which gives the shrub its name "hazel", they are ready to be picked, usually in late September or early October -- then dried and eaten.

Nowadays, however, the hazelnut has become badly infested with the Hazelnut Weevil, the larva of a small snout-beetle, and most nuts will have a tiny hole in the shell through which the weevil escaped after eating all of the "goody" inside. The filbert we buy in stores is a Japanese relative of the hazelnut, grown extensively in California.

The stems of the hazel bush are stiff and straight. In pioneer days they were used for making baskets and especially as ramrods for the muzzle-loading rifles and shotguns. They had another use because in those days there was a proverb: " Spare the rod and spoil the child".

A hazel switch was standard schoolroom equipment.

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