We tend to not give much thought to a plant’s form when considering a new shrub or tree to invite into our landscapes. Some plants just scream form. There are the conical-shaped plants, the weepers, and the upright, columnar forms of plants and all have their merits. Then there are the contortionists.
European filbert (Corylus avellana) is a deciduous, multi-trunked suckering shrub. If you’re a hazelnut fan, this is the plant that produces those. However, in American gardens, cultivars are most often planted. The most popular is ‘Contorta’ or Harry Lauder’s walking stick.
This contorted form was discovered in the 1800s in an English hedgerow. Its common name was given in honor of the Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder.
The European filbert, needless to say, is not native to the US. American filbert (Corylus americana) is our native but so far, doesn’t have the star power that Harry Lauder does.
The form of contorted filbert is a beautiful sight. It grows in full to part sun, mature height is usually about 8-10 feet high and wide. Some specimens have grown to 15 feet.
It probably shines its brightest in the winter and early spring. In the winter, the twisted and spiraling branches can be clearly seen. In winter and early spring, male flower (catkins) are also very distinctive and add to the shrub’s appeal. Female flowers are fairly inconspicuous. Even the leaves are somewhat contorted.
This contorted cultivar is often grafted. The understock (not contorted) will sucker and these should be removed. If possible, buy plants that are grown on their own roots.
Japanese beetles do enjoy skeletonizing the leaves. No other pests have been noted.
This cultivar will not produce nuts as a rule but it’s not unheard of. Properly sited where the stems and catkins can be appreciated, contorted filbert is a winner.
Submitted by Beth Wilson, Agent for Horticulture, Pulaski Co. Cooperative Extension Service