Contorted Filberts Are A Real Garden Twist

Contorted Filberts Are A Real Garden Twist

The star performer at the garden shows this year is an old plant rediscovered, the dwarf contorted filbert often called “Henry Lauder’s Walking Stick”.  I learned that Henry Lauder was a vaudeville star who always carried a twisted cane.

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A near mature filbert revealing the twisted trunks and corkscrew branches.

This odd sport of its parent filbert, Corylus avelana, became the variety ‘Contorta’.  It’s obvious when you see the twisted, curly growth of these shrubs or small trees.  When dormant under snow they are a stand-out in the winter garden.  Like its nut bearing ancestor, this plant produces wind pollinated catkins very early in spring that literally deck it out like Christmas tree tinsel.

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The catkins hanging on bare branches were the highlight of many demonstration gardens, and everyone who passed the Monrovia booth stopped to admire their specimen.  While tending the display I learned that these filberts are grown on their own roots.  This ensures that should suckers develop, they will maintain the twisted growth. 

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Catkins like this release visible pollen when touched, illustrating they are a wind pollinated plant.  This is a male clone and will not produce nuts.

To extend quantities, some growers graft the contorted scion wood onto standard filbert rootstock.  This works well until the rootstock begins to sucker.  If it does the growth will be straight filbert and spoil the beauty of the plant.  Once suckering starts you’ll be stuck with pruning it often.  Because the rootstock may be more vigorous than the contorted wood, it may steal growth energy away from the top graft scion, reducing its development.  Therefore own-root contorted filberts are a better choice.

More factoids on contorted filberts:

  • Prune often to reveal twisted trunk. 
  • Prunings make excellent indoor cuttings.
  • Very cold hardy plants.
  • Prefer afternoon shade.
  • Fabulous under night lighting when dormant.

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