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
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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Update: June 2012