Beaked hazelnut – Corylus cornuta ssp. californica

leaves of hazelnut

At a Glance:

  • Family:  Betulaceae
  • Plant Type:  Vase-like spreading, multi-stemmed shrub
  • Distribution:  Widespread in North America, especially the coasts and northern US.
  • Habitat: Forests, thickets, and rocky slopes
  • Height: 4-8 feet tall
  • Flower/Fruits:   Male flowers are catkins that hang down from the branch up to several inches long. The female flower is at the tip of the branch (terminal) with brown scales surrounding the flower. Only the red-magenta stigmas are exposed. Once fruited, the hazelnut forms in clumps or 2 or 3 and are covered with a green hairy husk (tube).
  • Flowering Season: January – March
  • Leaves: Margins are doubly serrate, round to cordate (heart-shaped) in shape with a pointed tip.
  • Generation: Perennial
  • Notable feature: the leaves are very soft and feel velvety, especially in spring. Nuts can be challenging to find because they are quickly harvested by small mammals.

Restoration and Conservation

The beaked hazlenut is an early successional plant usually found in open forests with a partly shady understory. Beaked hazelnut is wind pollinated, so flowers do not provide nectar for pollinators. The nuts form on branches that are 2-18 years old, and underground root systems respond well to trimming, fire, and other disturbance, shooting up new flowering branches 1-2 years after. Small mammal caching is critical to the dispersal of the seeds. Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, rodents, and black bears eat the nuts. Deer, moose, elk, and beaver eat the leaves. Many trees in a small area can also form thickets used as shelter for small mammals and birds.


Native Americans ate the nuts and used recently-sprouted twigs to build common household products like fish traps, baskets, and baby carriers. The nuts were also collected and used for trading. Because of the importance of this plant, they had a very regular fire regime to keep the plants active in nut production and growing the soft new wood-twigs.

References and Resources

This article was written by Sarah Verlinde-Azofeifa. For questions regarding the EERC Native Plant Guided Tour, contact Sarah at severlin@uw.edu.