The Beaked Hazelnut is a deciduous shrub in the Fabaceae or Birch family. It is common throughout the boreal forest and in areas like The J.J. Collett Natural Area. It stands up to 10 feet of more in height and is found in thickets in dryer mixed aspen/spruce woods.
Both female and male catkins develop on each plant. One of the first signs of spring are the small, red stigmas which show up in a cluster at the end of a short branch. These are followed several weeks later by yellowish catkins from which pollen is produced. The pollen are air borne after release and some land on the stigmas and fertilization of the ovaries follows.
Leaves develop several weeks later. They are green, ovate in shape and have roughly serrate edges. The stems are up to 2 cm thick and have gray bark. The leaves turn yellow in the fall.
Two or three fruits develop in pairs or clusters, each within a prickly coating in the shape of a beak. This prickly coating can be irritating if handled. After a month or more, the coating dries up and, by then, the nuts have developed thin, but firm, brown shells, the contents of which are quite tasty.
Hazelnuts are avidly sought by squirrels and blue jays and a person has to be lucky to find any. The filberts that one can buy at Christmas time are similar but they are from a related species in which the plants are trees rather than shrubs and which does not occur in Alberta.
Useful sources of information on Beaked Hazelnuts are the following:
Wilkinson, K. 1990. Trees and Shrubs of Alberta. Lone Pine. 193 pp.
Johnson, D., L. Kershaw, A. MacKinnon and J. Pojar. 1995. Plants of the Western Boreal Forest & Aspen Parkland. Lone Pine. 389 pp.
Yet another marvel in our wonderful natural world. Look for it when you are out hiking.