Preeminent for winter interest, the Contorted Hazel, or ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’ all add up to the same beautifully twisted, gnarled branches standing out in the bleak wintertime views.

All of these common names refer to one tree, “Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ “.

Maybe not everyone will like it, due to the dull summer season foliage and the way Japanese beetles descend upon it whenever they are in the area, but I have grown to love this quirky little ornamental tree.

Unwanted ‘Suckers’ Should Be Removed

Most of the trees on the market are grown as grafts on rootstock and send up “suckers” of untwisted branches. That has been true of mine, although one tree sends up lots more suckers than the other, and I’m not sure why.

Maybe I planted it a bit too deeply or the soil crept up on the root flare, but when suckers do develop it is important to take them out before they get too strong. They can be very vigorous.Simply use loppers to remove them at or below the soil line.

Catkins, Leaves, Twisted Branches

birds eye view of the spring catkins

birds eye view of the spring catkins

The blooms of greenish yellow catkins, dripping down in chains that look like filigree mesh earrings, show in late winter. They are very graceful and artistic for flower arrangements, as are the twirled and twisting branches they hang from.

The green leaves are also a bit contorted, but they are not very attractive. By that time I have a Charles Mills rose that grows up into it and gives the illusion of bright magenta bloom, so I don’t mind.

Japanese Beetles Are Damaging Pests

Before the advent of Japanese beetles in this area it had no pests to speak of, but the hordes of voracious invaders have made browned skeletons of the foliage for the past couple years, and that has to be taken into account when planting this tree, now. I still recommend it for its winter beauty.

You can use partially skeletonized leaves for pressed flower projects- they are quite beautiful used in that way. No cloud without its silver lining, as its said.

Twisted branches and dangling catkins

Twisted branches and dangling catkins

Contorted Hazel Look

A small tree of rounded shape that has dull medium green leaves of crinkly, corrugated texture.

The branches are all contorted into a twisted shapes that curl up and over itself in a pleasingly artistic way. The bark is smooth and gray.

The lovely catkins drip like earring strewed upon the branches and of a lively citron color in earliest spring/late winter. The entire tree is gnarled into bumps and turns to about 8 feet or so.

This variety produces nuts called “cobnuts”, but need to determine whether you have a “pollenizer” or a “production” tree- not an issue with the ornamental contorted hazel. I have yet to see a nut on either of my trees.

How To Grow Contorted Filbert

Prefers loamy soil, but not picky, I grow them on clay loam, here. They don’t mind the tough prairie winds that assault my front garden throughout the year. May be grown in partly shaded areas, but better in full sun.

  • 10 to 15 ft. tall and wide
  • Grows slowly
  • Full sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 3 – 9
  • Moist but well-drained soil
  •  Neutral to sweet pH

Growing Tips

Primarily the main attention should be made to keep the water sprouts grubbed out. Other than that this tree needs little to no care.

If you have Japanese beetles in your area, they attack most important trees and flowers, so control them with ‘bacillus thuringiensis’ . More about Bt, here.

Japanese beetles skeletonized the leaves of my hazel trees.

Fun Facts

Contorted hazel branches make artful basket handles if you are weaving your own baskets.

Called “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick”, Corkscrew Hazel, Contorted Hazelnut, Contorted Filbert, and “Old Man’s Walking Stick”.

You may use this as a container plant surrounded by spring bulbs, or favorite annuals.