Catkins and other strange things

Every time I go searching for something about gardening, I find something else that is equally, if not more, amazing.

A few days ago, I was looking out the window at the very chipmunk I am positive ate all of my crocus corms, causing me to have not a single flower in the front garden for the past two years. I knew this little guy (or girl) lived under the step. It was raining, and he didn’t seem to mind, playing around the blooming hyacinths, enjoying their fragrance while I was only able to look at them from the other side of the window. He was looking for the peanuts and sunflower seeds my husband tossed out there earlier for the birds.

On the opposite side of the garden stands a Corylus contorta tree that I’m very fond of. It’s also known as contorted filbert. This tree has been one of my favorites ever since the day I put it in the ground. Its more common name is Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, and if you haven’t heard of it or seen one, you should definitely look it up at the garden center.

The filbert has been in my yard for about seven years, and when I first planted it, making sure it was in a location where I could see it from practically every front window on the house, it was rather small and puny looking. This plant grows naturally as a shrub, often many branched from the rootball and as wide as it is tall, but my specimen was grown as a standard, probably grafted onto a stronger root stalk and instead of many-branched, it has one main tree-like trunk and then about 4 feet from the ground, the branches twist and curl like wild hair in all directions.

In summer, the curly branches are hidden by deep-green corrugated and serrated leaves that have a strange curl to them as well. This is a deciduous plant, which means it drops its leaves in the fall, leaving the bare, twisted branches for all to see.

Another contorted tree I have, a corkscrew willow, also has this same strange growth habit of strangely twisting its branches, but the willow is definitely a tree and grows upright as though it is reaching for the sky. The filbert, however, grows outward, like an umbrella and looks as though it was planted upside down with its true branches under the ground and its feet and roots up above.

Many have suggested cutting its branches to bring inside for arrangements, and although I have done that with the willow, I can’t bring myself to trim the tangled branches on the filbert.

While I looked out the window at the chipmunk and a few birds who came by looking for seeds, I noticed that the filbert had released its catkins over the winter. Looking like long, wavy tassels, the catkins are the male flowers. If it hadn’t been raining and I chose to make a closer examination of the branches, I probably would have seen tiny, red flowers clinging closely to the branches on swollen stems. This plant is monoecious, which means it has both male and female flowers on the same plant.

I get annoyed when I read that these flowers are insignificant, because I think they are lovely and prefer to think of them as discreet. Some descriptions say this tree doesn’t produce nuts, but in some situations, it does, and I have found small nuts on my tree. Squirrels love them, and maybe chipmunks as well.

The contorted filbert was discovered in the mid-1800s and is believed to be a mutation of the common European Hazelnut tree.

Its rather cumbersome common name, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, is based on a prop used by Scottish entertainer, balladeer and comedian Harry Lauder. Lauder, who died in 1950, would perform on stage wearing traditional Scottish costumes and carrying a twisted walking stick.