With apologies to Lord Melchett in the great Blackadder episiode (series two) which also features the most famous turnip in the world and the redoubtable Miriam Margolyes, here is the curiously beautiful, twisted hazel, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’. It was a random find, in a hedgerow in 1863 by Cannon Ellacombe, a gardening friend of E A Bowles, in Frocester in Gloucestershire. The branches are magnificently twisted and even the catkins have a bit of a bend before the open. It was commonly called Harry Lauder’s walking stick after the popular Victorian Scottish entertainer. It is popular for the winter outline of the stems although the twisted leaves make the plant, in summer, look as though it is infested with aphids. It will grow in sun or part shade and will reach 3m high and across in time. Generally easy to please and a delight to flower arrangers, the one problem with it is that it is propagated by grafting onto ordinary hazel seedlings and thus it often sends up straight suckers that must be removed immediately. If not, these can overwhelm the plant and then need great effort to remove.
Corylus are named after ‘korys’ meaning ‘helmet’ – a reference to the husk that surrounds the nut. Above is a photo of the flowers. The male flowers are clustered into the well known catkins but the female flowers are clusters of green scales from which emerge the bright red stigmas that catch the pollen. Both flowers are present on the same plant.