Nature Notes

Hazel Catkins - Signs of Spring

The Hazel has branched stems near the ground and so does not strictly fit the description of a tree in the sense of, for example, an oak or beech. So it is often referred to as a bush or shrub. It is deciduous and when the new round pointed leaves start to grow again in April they are about 10cm in size. By October they have turned yellow and will die and fall during that month, or sooner if strong winds occur. The male catkin flowers of Hazel appear in late January or early February and are pale-yellow in colour, being up to 7cm long and loaded with pollen that is spread by the wind to fertilise the female flowers of a nearby Hazel; the plant cannot fertilise itself. The female flowers are tiny dark-red tufts that emanate from a small swollen bud on the same branch as the male catkins. Because the catkins are produced on bare twigs they are very noticeable, particularly the long male ones, and are the first sign that Spring is not too many weeks away. The small nuts of hazel are formed from the female flowers and they gradually ripen to a dark brown colour in September and October. They are a very good source of food for squirrels and woodpeckers, and where they are found at ground level they are also eaten and hoarded by other rodents for a winter store.

Hazel Catkins