Twisted Hazelnut Trees – How To Grow A Contorted Filbert Tree

Twisted Hazelnut Trees – How To Grow A Contorted Filbert Tree

By: Teo Spengler

These shrubs or small trees – called both contorted filbert trees and twisted hazelnut trees – grow upright on curiously twisted trunks. The shrub immediately catches the eye with its unique features. Caring for a contorted hazelnut tree (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) is not difficult. Read on for more information about how to grow contorted filbert trees.

Contorted Filbert Trees

The trunks of twisted hazelnut trees/contorted filbert trees grow to 10 or 15 feet (3-4.5 m.) tall and are so twisted that gardeners give the tree the nickname “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.” The branches are also uniquely curled and twisted.

The other ornamental feature about the trees are the male catkins. They are long and golden and hang from the branches of the tree beginning in winter, providing visual interest long after leaf drop. In time, the catkins develop into edible hazelnuts, otherwise known as contorted hazelnut tree nuts.

The leaves of the species tree are green and toothed. If you want more pizazz in the summer, purchase the cultivar “Red Majestic” that offers maroon/red leaves instead.

How to Grow a Contorted Filbert Tree

Grow contorted filbert trees/twisted hazelnut trees in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9 in well-drained, fertile soil. The tree accepts acidic or alkaline soil and can be planted in full sun or partial shade.

For best results, purchase a tree with its own rootstock, as this will avoid suckers. Many trees offered in commerce are grafted to another rootstock and produce myriad suckers.

Caring for a Contorted Hazelnut Tree

Once you have planted your twisted hazelnut tree in an appropriate location, you won’t be called upon to exert much effort on its behalf. Its growing requirements are very simple.

First, the contorted hazelnut tree requires moist soil. You need to irrigate it frequently after planting and, even after it is established, continue providing water on a regular basis if the weather is dry.

Next, and most important, is to cut out suckers if they appear. Contorted hazelnut trees grafted to different rootstock will tend to produce many suckers that should not be left to develop.

Like other shrubs, twisted hazelnut trees may fall victim to insect pests or diseases. One disease of particular concern is Eastern filbert blight. It occurs primarily in the eastern half of the country as well as Oregon.

If your tree comes down with the blight, you will notice flowers and foliage turning brown, wilting and dying. Look also for cankers on limbs, especially in the upper canopy. The fungus causing the disease passes between trees through airborne spores in wet weather.

Your best bet in dealing with Eastern filbert blight is avoiding it by planting resistant cultivars. If your tree is already attacked, wait until dry weather then trim away all infected limbs and burn them.

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Contorted Filbert (Harry Lauder's Walking Stick) Plant Profile

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Corylus avellana 'Contorta', also known as Contorted Filbert, is a deciduous woody shrub with an appearance that is as unusual as its common name: Harry Lauder's walking stick. 'Contorta' is a sport—a naturally occurring variation of Corylus avellana, a shrub commonly known as the common hazel or European filbert. The 'Contorta' variation was discovered during the mid-1800s in Great Britain and was named for a Scottish vaudeville entertainer, Harry Lauder, who used a crooked branch from the shrub as a walking cane.

Growing to a maximum height of 8 to 10 feet, this deciduous flowering shrub is commonly used in hedge and screen borders where the interesting stems can be observed up close. The cut stems are frequently used in decorative arrangements. Stems can also be grafted onto a host shrub a height of about 4 feet, giving the host a habit more like that of a dwarf tree.

Botanical Name Corylus avellana 'Contorta'
Common Names Harry Lauder's walking stick, contorted filbert, corkscrew hazel
Plant Type Deciduous flowering shrub
Mature Size 8 to 10 feet tall and wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Moist, organically rich, well-drained loam
Soil pH 6.0 to 8.0
Bloom Time Early to mid-spring
Flower Color Yellowish-brown catkins on male flowers female flowers are nondescript
Hardiness Zones 4 to 8
Native Area Asia and Europe

Using Filbert in the Landscape

Combine filbert with native shrubs and trees to create a wildlife-friendly border or screen. Great companions include sumac (Rhus spp.), beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.), willow (Salix spp.), and dogwood (Cornus spp.). When cultivated together, these easy-to-grow woody plants create a palette of color and texture that lends interest year-round. Spread a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of bark mulch around plants to create a large, nearly maintenance-free planting bed.

Contorted Hazel

P reeminent 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

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

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
  • Â 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.


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Contorted Filbert

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The weird and wonderful Contorted Filbert Tree (a.k.a. Contorted Hazelnut or Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick) is a tree with a great sense of humor. With curlicue branches that are in no hurry to get from Point A to Point B, swerving and zigzagging en route, this quirky small specimen tree will have you and your guests laughing out loud. It’s the ultimate winter interest plant — its kinky branches all the more captivating when outlined in ice or snow. Contorted Filbert also entertains in late winter with charming four-inch-long dangling mustard- yellow catkins that dance in the wind, announcing to the world that spring is around the corner.

Growth Facts

The Story

The Contorted Filbert is a naturally occurring mutant form of European Fil bert, a species often planted for filbert, a.k.a. hazelnut, production. (Your Contorted Filbert Tree may produce some edible hazelnuts, but probably only a few.) The kinky contorted version was discovered back in 1863, growing wild in a hedgerow in England. This form is commonly called “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick,” in reference to a now obscure but once very famous Scottish singer and comedian who carried a crooked walking stick. Contorted Filbert can be grown as a shrub, but we prefer it raised up off the ground (on a “ s tandard”) and trained like a little tree, as we have done here.

The Details

Perfect for a children’s garden — or simply the young at heart — Contorted Filbert’s squiggly branches will bring laughter and cheer to the dreariest of winter days. Cut branches are wonderful to bring inside , too, for adding to arrangements or for using in other craft projects.

How to Grow

Contorted Filbert is an adaptable, easy to please tree that flourishes in full sun or light shade in just about any type of soil. Pests and diseases are rarely an issue. You might worry that there’s something wrong with the leaves when you see how crinkled they are, but that’s only because the foliage is contor ted as well , and it’s no cause for alarm. The one task you’ll want to stay on top of is to patrol for “suckers” — new growth that sprouts from below the graft union — and prune those shoots out. They aren’t difficult to spot, as the perfectly straight twigs contrast noticeably with the curly branches.

Hazelnut, Contorted (Corylus avellana)-Eastern Filbert Blight

Cause Anisogramma anomala , a fungus that has infected both hazelnut orchards and home gardens throughout the Pacific North-west. The fungus has a life cycle of 2 or more years including a 12- to 15-month latent period when no symptoms are visible. In spring, spores are forcibly ejected and released in a sticky, white ooze in wet weather. Wind-driven rain and splashing droplets spread spores to young, developing shoots. Infection occurs in wet weather from bud break through shoot elongation. Stroma begin to develop the second summer after infection and mature by late fall. Several hours of continuous rain are needed for ascospore release. Stroma will continue to sporulate, even after the diseased branch has been removed from the tree, until the canker dries out completely. Cankers on large limbs, trunks or resistant cultivars may not produce stroma. New stroma develop each year as the canker continues to expand along and around the branch. Numerous new infections also occur each succeeding year.

The ornamental cultivars 'Burgundy Lace' and 'Red Dragon' have the single dominant-resistance gene from 'Gasaway'. Strains of Anisogramma anomala from Eastern North America can overcome the single dominant-resistance gene bred into new cultivars. There are restrictions in Oregon on commercial and ornamental hazelnut cultivars imported from out-of-state (OAR 603-052-0825).

Symptoms Infected branches may die suddenly from July to September. Dead leaves may stay on the branch. Elongated, raised bumps begin to form on infected twigs and branches in June. When the bark is removed, the cambium below the bumps is chocolate-brown. Bumps continue to expand until the fungus breaks through the outer bark in July and August. A white, oval to football-shape fungal structure called a stroma can be seen then. As the stroma matures from August to October, it turns black and raises about 0.12 inch above the branch. Stromata are in relatively straight rows lengthwise along the branch. Cankers enlarge along the branch each year. Branches die back when expanding cankers girdle branches and limbs.

Cultural control An integrated approach using several cultural and chemical techniques is needed for adequate disease control.

  • Plant resistant cultivars.
  • Thoroughly inspect new plantings for 2 years to find trees that may have been infected prior to purchase.
  • Remove and destroy infected branches at least 1 ft below cankered area before bud break in spring.

Chemical control A total of four (4) applications is recommended to adequately protect trees. Apply starting at budswell to bud break and continue at 2-week intervals to cover an 8-week period. Thorough coverage of all branches is essential. Alternate or tank-mix fungicides from different groups with different modes of action. The addition of a surfactant, if allowed by the label, will improve disease control.

  • Bonide Fung-onil Multi Purpose Fungicide at 3.5 teaspoons/4 gal water. Group M5 fungicide. For home use in Oregon only. H
  • Broadform at 7.6 fl oz/A can be used in nurseries and landscapes. Do not use with EC or oil-based products. Excellent control. Group 7 + 11 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Copper products result in good control. Group M1 fungicide. O
    • Badge SC at 7 to 20 pt/A. Oregon and Washington only . 48-hr reentry. O
    • ChampION ++ at 7 to 10.5 lb/A Group M1 fungicide. 48-hr reentry. O
    • Copper-Count-N at 8 to 12 quarts/A. 48-hr reentry.
    • Cuprofix Ultra 40 Disperss at 10 to 15 lb/A. Oregon and Washington only . 48-hr reentry.
    • Grotto at 38 gal/A. 4-hr reentry. O
    • Kocide 3000-O at 7 to 10.5 lb/A plus 1 pint superior-type oil/100 gal water. 48-hr reentry. O
    • Monterey Liqui-Cop at 1 to 2 Tbsp/gal water. H
    • Nu-Cop 50DF at 8 to 12 lb/A with 1 pint superior-type oil/100 gal water. 48-hr reentry.
  • Hi-Yield Vegetable, Flower, Fruit and Ornamental Fungicide at 9 teaspoons/4 gal water. Group M5 fungicide. For home use in Oregon only. H
  • Herritage at 6.4 oz/A. Use as a protectant only on a 10-day schedule. Do not use with silicone-based surfactants. Sprayers should not be used on apples. Moderate control. Group 11 fungicide. 4-hr reentry.
  • Tourney 50 WDG at 1 to 4 oz/100 gal water. Group 3 sfungicide. 12-hr reentry.

Notes OxiDate is registered but it will not control this disease due to its short residual activity. Previsto is registered but resulted in poor control.

  • Serenade Garden Disease Control Concentrate at 2 to 4 fl oz/gal water. Variable efficacy in western Oregon. H O

Reference Mehlenbacher, S. A., and Smith, D. C., 2009. 'Red Dragon' Ornamental Hazelnut. HortScience 44:843-844.

Watch the video: Harry Lauders Walking Stick Contorted Filbert. Corylus avellana Contorta