The Fascinating World of Corkscrew Hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)


The world of horticulture is full of unique and captivating plant varieties, each with its own set of distinctive features. One such intriguing plant is the Corkscrew Hazel, scientifically known as Corylus avellana ‘Contorta.’ This remarkable shrub stands out for its contorted, twisted branches that resemble a corkscrew, making it a prized addition to gardens around the world. In this comprehensive article, we will delve deep into the world of Corkscrew Hazel, exploring its origin, characteristics, cultivation, and the myriad ways in which it can enhance the beauty of your outdoor space.

  1. A Twist in Nature: The Origin of Corkscrew Hazel

Corkscrew Hazel, also referred to as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, is a cultivar of the common hazel (Corylus avellana). Its intriguing twisted branches are not a result of genetic modification but rather a naturally occurring mutation. The plant owes its unique appearance to a phenomenon known as fasciation, which causes the stems and branches to develop abnormally.

This particular cultivar was named after Sir Harry Lauder, a renowned Scottish entertainer from the early 20th century who used a twisted walking stick. The name ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’ is a testament to the plant’s striking resemblance to his walking stick.

  1. Characteristics of Corkscrew Hazel

2.1 Twisted Branches: The most prominent feature of Corkscrew Hazel is its twisted and contorted branches. These branches grow in a seemingly chaotic, corkscrew-like fashion, giving the plant a whimsical and captivating appearance. The twisted branches can be a focal point in any garden, providing visual interest even in the winter when the leaves have fallen.

2.2 Leaves: The leaves of Corkscrew Hazel are typically round or heart-shaped and have a deep green color. They add a lush, vibrant backdrop to the twisted branches during the growing season.

2.3 Catkins: In the late winter or early spring, the Corkscrew Hazel produces small, pendulous catkins that hang from the branches. These catkins are a source of pollen for early pollinators and provide a subtle charm to the plant’s overall aesthetics.

2.4 Size: Corkscrew Hazel is a relatively small shrub, typically reaching a height of 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) and a similar spread. Its compact size makes it an excellent choice for gardens of all sizes, including small urban spaces.

  1. Cultivation and Care

Corkscrew Hazel is a hardy and low-maintenance plant, making it an ideal choice for both novice and experienced gardeners. Here are some essential tips for cultivating and caring for this unique shrub:

3.1 Location: Plant your Corkscrew Hazel in a location that receives partial to full sun. It can tolerate a range of soil types but prefers well-draining soil. Ensure good air circulation around the plant to prevent the development of fungal diseases.

3.2 Planting: Plant Corkscrew Hazel in the spring or fall, when the weather is mild. Dig a hole that is about twice the size of the root ball and place the plant at the same depth it was in its nursery container. Water thoroughly after planting.

3.3 Watering: While Corkscrew Hazel is relatively drought-tolerant once established, it’s essential to keep the soil consistently moist during the first year after planting. Once the plant is well-established, you can reduce watering.

3.4 Pruning: Pruning is not typically necessary for Corkscrew Hazel, as its unique branches are its main attraction. However, you can remove dead or damaged branches in late winter or early spring to maintain the plant’s health and appearance.

3.5 Fertilization: Fertilize your Corkscrew Hazel in the spring with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer. Avoid excessive fertilization, as it can lead to excessive vegetative growth at the expense of the plant’s twisted branches.

3.6 Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

  1. Landscaping with Corkscrew Hazel

The unique appearance of Corkscrew Hazel makes it an excellent choice for various landscaping purposes. Here are some creative ways to incorporate this captivating shrub into your outdoor space:

4.1 Specimen Plant: Corkscrew Hazel shines as a specimen plant, stealing the spotlight in your garden. Plant it in a prominent location where its twisted branches can be fully appreciated.

4.2 Hedge: Create an eye-catching hedge by planting multiple Corkscrew Hazel shrubs in a row. This can serve as a boundary marker or a distinctive backdrop for other plants.

4.3 Container Gardening: Due to its compact size, Corkscrew Hazel is well-suited for container gardening. Place it in a decorative pot on your patio or balcony to add a touch of whimsy to your outdoor space.

4.4 Mixed Borders: Combine Corkscrew Hazel with other shrubs and perennials to create a dynamic and visually appealing mixed border. The contrast between the twisted branches and the surrounding plants can be stunning.

4.5 Winter Interest: Since Corkscrew Hazel retains its twisted branches even in winter, it can provide much-needed visual interest to your garden during the colder months. Consider planting it near a window or seating area where you can enjoy its unique form year-round.

  1. Wildlife Benefits

Corkscrew Hazel offers more than just aesthetic appeal; it also provides benefits to local wildlife:

5.1 Pollinator Support: The catkins produced by Corkscrew Hazel in early spring are a valuable source of pollen for pollinators such as bees. Supporting pollinators is essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems and ensuring the pollination of many of our food crops.

5.2 Shelter for Birds: The dense and twisted branches of Corkscrew Hazel can provide shelter and nesting sites for birds. It offers a safe haven for small songbirds throughout the year.

5.3 Food Source: The nuts produced by common hazel (Corylus avellana) are a food source for various wildlife species, including squirrels and certain birds. While Corkscrew Hazel may produce fewer nuts due to its contorted growth, it can still contribute to the local wildlife’s food supply.

  1. Varieties and Companions

While Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ is the most well-known Corkscrew Hazel cultivar, there are other related varieties and companion plants that can enhance your garden’s appeal:

6.1 Corylus avellana ‘Red Majestic’: This variety features red-purple leaves, adding a splash of color to your garden. It pairs well with the green foliage of ‘Contorta,’ creating a stunning contrast.

6.2 Companion Plants: Consider planting Corkscrew Hazel alongside other shrubs and perennials that complement its unique form. Plants with variegated foliage or colorful blooms can create a visually striking combination.

  1. Propagation

If you want to expand your collection of Corkscrew Hazels or share this unique plant with friends and family, you can propagate it through various methods:

7.1 Softwood Cuttings: Take softwood cuttings from healthy branches in the spring or early summer. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and plant it in a well-draining potting mix. Keep the cutting moist and in a warm, humid environment until it roots.

7.2 Layering: Layering is another effective propagation method for Corkscrew Hazel. Select a flexible, low-lying branch, remove a section of bark, and bury it in the soil while leaving a portion exposed. Roots will form at the buried section, and you can then sever the new plant from the parent.

7.3 Suckers: Corkscrew Hazel may also produce suckers or shoots from its base. These can be carefully dug up and transplanted to new locations in your garden.

  1. Pests and Diseases

Corkscrew Hazel is generally resistant to most common pests and diseases. However, like any plant, it can still face some challenges:

8.1 Aphids: Aphids may occasionally infest the plant, especially during the growing season. You can usually control them by spraying the affected areas with a strong stream of water or using insecticidal soap.

8.2 Powdery Mildew: In humid conditions, Corkscrew Hazel can be susceptible to powdery mildew. To prevent this fungal disease, ensure good air circulation around the plant, avoid overhead watering, and remove and dispose of infected leaves.

8.3 Deer: In areas with a deer population, Corkscrew Hazel may be browsed by deer. Consider using deer-resistant fencing or repellents to protect your plant.

  1. Conclusion: A Unique Addition to Your Garden

Corkscrew Hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) is a true marvel of nature, with its twisted branches and year-round visual interest. Whether you’re an experienced gardener looking for a captivating specimen plant or a novice seeking a low-maintenance shrub to enhance your garden, this unique cultivar has much to offer. From its fascinating history to its role in supporting wildlife and its versatility in landscaping, Corkscrew Hazel deserves a special place in your outdoor space. So, why not consider adding a touch of whimsy and wonder to your garden with the enchanting Corkscrew Hazel? It’s a twist of nature that you won’t soon forget.


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