Friday, September 21, 2012

I Love a Good Mystery

As I drove up to the curb of my new client's home, I noticed this large plant that I didn't immediately recognize. I assumed it was a "shrub" of tree suckers — maybe an old American elm or linden that had been cut down at one time or had broken off in a storm. When I got closer I saw that there was no central trunk or leader; this plant was a very large shrub.

The leaves were fuzzy on both top and bottom, and had double-serrate edges (margins), which is very cool! There was something about the zig-zag character of the branches that was nagging my memory, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

The home owners pointed out something that looked like an old acorn and guessed that it was some kind of oak?

We went on to look at the rest of the property and talk about the owners' dreams for new gardens, patios, and play areas.  Later that evening, I finally remembered what the mystery shrub reminded me of:  Harry Lauder's walkingstick (or contorted filbert) Corylus avellana 'Contorta'.  When I returned to the property a few days later I found two more clues:

An immature fruit with it's ruffled bracts,

and a late flower catkin.

A quick Google search confirmed that the mystery plant is an American hazel Corylus americana.

It's always fun to "discover" something new, but would I recommend this plant for Front Range gardens?  No. It's native range is in areas that have richer soil and a lot more precipitation than Colorado does. Also, an epic battle with the birds squirrels, raccoons, etc. would have to be fought for the few available nuts — it would not make it a very fun or productive edible for the landscape.

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