Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Betulaceae
Genus: Corylus

See text

The hazels (Corylus) are a genus of deciduous trees and large shrubs native to the temperate northern hemisphere. The genus is usually placed in the birch family Betulaceae,[1][2][3][4] though some botanists split the hazels (with the hornbeams and allied genera) into a separate family Corylaceae.[5][6]

They have simple, rounded leaves with double-serrate margins. The flowers are produced very early in spring before the leaves, and are monoecious, with single-sex catkins, the male pale yellow and 5–12 cm long, the female very small and largely concealed in the buds, with only the bright red 1–3 mm long styles visible. The seeds are nuts 1–2.5 cm long and 1–2 cm diameter, surrounded by an involucre (husk) which partly to fully encloses the nut.[3]

The shape and structure of the involucre, and also the growth habit (whether a tree or a suckering shrub), are important in the identification of the different species of hazel.[3]


There are 14–18 species of hazel. The circumscription of species in eastern Asia is disputed, with WCSP and the Flora of China differing in which taxa are accepted; within this region, only those taxa accepted by both sources are listed below.[3][7][8][9] The species are grouped as follows:

  • Nut surrounded by a soft, leafy involucre. Multi-stemmed, suckering shrubs to 12m tall.
    • Involucre short, about the same length as the nut.
    • Involucre long, twice the length of the nut or more, forming a 'beak'.
      • Corylus colchica—Colchican Filbert. Caucasus.
      • Corylus cornuta—Beaked Hazel. North America.
      • Corylus maxima—Filbert. Southeastern Europe and southwest Asia.
      • Corylus sieboldiana—Asian Beaked Hazel. Northeastern Asia and Japan (syn. C. mandshurica).
  • Nut surrounded by a stiff, spiny involucre. Single-stemmed trees to 20–35 m tall.
    • Involucre moderately spiny and also with glandular hairs.
      • Corylus chinensis—Chinese Hazel. Western China.
      • Corylus colurna—Turkish Hazel. Southeastern Europe and Asia Minor.
      • Corylus fargesii—Farges' Hazel. Western China.
      • Corylus jacquemontii—Jacquemont's Hazel. Himalaya.
      • Corylus wangii—Wang's Hazel. Southwest China.
    • Involucre densely spiny, resembling a chestnut burr.
      • Corylus ferox—Himalayan Hazel. Himalaya, Tibet and southwest China (syn. C. tibetica).

Several hybrids exist, and can occur between species in different sections of the genus, e.g. Corylus × colurnoides (C. avellana × C. colurna). The oldest confirmed hazel species is Corylus johnsonii found as fossils in the Ypresian age rocks of Ferry County, Washington, USA.[10]



The nuts of all hazels are edible. The Common Hazel is the species most extensively grown for its nuts, followed in importance by the Filbert. Nuts are also harvested from the other species, but apart from the Filbert, none is of significant commercial importance.[4]

A number of cultivars of the Common Hazel and Filbert are grown as ornamental plants in gardens, including forms with contorted stems (C. avellana 'Contorta', popularly known as "Harry Lauder's walking stick" from its gnarled appearance); with weeping branches (C. avellana 'Pendula'); and with purple leaves (C. maxima 'Purpurea').

Hazels are used as food plants by the larvae of various species of Lepidoptera; see list of Lepidoptera that feed on hazels.

Mythology and folklore

The Celts believed hazelnuts gave one wisdom and inspiration. There are numerous variations on an ancient tale that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool, dropping into the water nuts that were eaten by salmon (a fish sacred to Druids) which absorbed the wisdom. The number of spots on the salmon were said to indicate how many nuts they had eaten.[citation needed]

A Druid teacher, in his bid to become omniscient, caught one of these special salmon and asked a student to cook the fish but not to eat it. While he was cooking it, hot liquid from the cooking fish splashed onto the pupil's thumb, which he naturally sucked to cool, thereby absorbing the fish's wisdom. This boy was called Fionn Mac Cumhail and went on to become one of the most heroic leaders in Gaelic mythology.[11]

The Hazel Branch, from Grimm's Fairy Tales, claims that hazel branches offer the greatest protection from snakes and other things that creep on the earth.


  1. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Corylus
  2. ^ Chen, Z.-D. et al. (1999). Phylogeny and evolution of the Betulaceae as inferred from DNA sequences, morphology, and paleobotany. Amer. J. Bot. 86: 1168–1181. Available online.
  3. ^ a b c d Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-220013-9.
  4. ^ a b Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5.
  5. ^ Bean, W. J. (1976). Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles 8th ed., vol. 1. John Murray ISBN 0-7195-1790-7.
  6. ^ Erdogan, V. & Mehlenbacher, S. A. (2002). Phylogenetic analysis of hazelnut species (Corylus, Corylacae) based on morphology and phenology. Sist. Bot. Dergisi 9: 83–100.
  7. ^ WCSP: Corylus
  8. ^ Flora of China: Corylus
  9. ^ Flora of North America: Corylus
  10. ^ Pigg, K.B.; Manchester S.R. & Wehr W.C. (2003). "Corylus, Carpinus, and Palaeocarpinus (Betulaceae) from the Middle Eocene Klondike Mountain and Allenby Formations of Northwestern North America". International Journal of Plant Sciences 164 (5): 807–822. 
  11. ^ Floriz: Mythology and Folklore of the Hazel Tree

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  • Hazel — Ha zel (h[=a] z l), n. [OE. hasel, AS. h[ae]sel; akin to D. hazelaar, G. hazel, OHG. hasal, hasala, Icel. hasl, Dan & Sw. hassel, L. corylus, for cosylus.] 1. (Bot.) A shrub or small tree of the genus {Corylus}, as the {Corylus avellana}, bearing …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Hazel — Ha zel, a. 1. Consisting of hazels, or of the wood of the hazel; pertaining to, or derived from, the hazel; as, a hazel wand. [1913 Webster] I sit me down beside the hazel grove. Keble. [1913 Webster] 2. Of a light brown color, like the hazelnut …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Hazel — Hazel, SD U.S. town in South Dakota Population (2000): 105 Housing Units (2000): 44 Land area (2000): 0.244571 sq. miles (0.633437 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.244571 sq. miles (0.633437 sq …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • hazel — [hā′zəl] n. [ME hasel < OE hæsel, akin to Ger hasel < IE * kos(e)lo , hazel > L corulus, hazel bush, OIr coll, hazel] 1. any of a genus (Corylus) of shrubs or trees of the birch family, bearing edible nuts 2. HAZELNUT 3. a) the wood of… …   English World dictionary

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