Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, is a contorted version of the species plant. It was discovered growing as a sport in an English hedgerow in the mid-1800s by Victorian gardener Canon Ellacombe. This plant was subsequently given the common name of Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick in the early 1900’s in honor of Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder (1870-1950).
I have one specimen plant growing in my zone 2b garden, yes I know that it isn’t supposed to be growing there, but it did well for several years. This cultivar offers a very unique compliment to any garden, alive or not! The stems are, as the name implies, contorted or twisted. In the very early spring or early winter, the specimen offers a unique look as it demands attention for certain. Most of the plants on the market are grafted onto a much hardier rootstalk which should raise a flag of caution for many. Indeed, this specimen will sucker or the rootstalk will produce side shoots that tend top be tougher than their grafted cousins. As such, a wise gardener will remove the side suckers as soon as they appear.
As will any of the hazelnuts, this cultivar tolerates rather heavy soil conditions like clay and doesn’t seem to mind the infrequency of water that it gets (got). The foliage is very typical of the Hazelnut, somewhat crinkled and serrated along the edges turning a light golden yellow in the fall. I for one enjoy the plant without foliage as it is so dramatic.
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick does not produce fruit, a hazelnut, so therefore it is grown simply for its intriguing shape. Cousins of this plant are the commercial filberts or hazelnuts and are actually very old as far as a nut crop in history. The early Greeks cultivated these plants and actually their language is the root of the genus name ‘corylus’ or korylus in Greek meaning helmet, which refers to the cap of the Filbert/Hazelnut. Under ideal conditions this plant can reach a height of eight to ten feet (3 metres) and as such should be placed accordingly in the garden. I prefer my specimen to be front and centre at the back of the border so that it can be viewed from practically anywhere in my garden. Once all the perennial plants have finished for the season, this plant stands proudly boasting its unusual twisted form. From time to time, we would select some of the more contorted branches and prune them out to use in floral arrangements or nature crafting for winter containers outdoors. They often will produce late winter flowers, which are really not spectacular, but all the same they do add additional interest to the plant. Both male and female flowers will appear on the same plant but alas, no fruit.
The specimen that I was so proud of finally succumbed to the nasty climate that it was exposed to, however, it still stands in my garden. The overall shape of the shrub is thick and of course twisted so it catches lots of snow a benefit for the surrounding living plants and it offers a great deal of structure to the garden. Gardener in zones above 5 in Canada should have no issues with this remarkable plants, however if you are not successful, it still looks great and requires no maintenance. Perhaps I shouldn’t be sharing the fact that I allow dead plants in my garden, not very horticultural I suppose, but I like it and it’s my garden!
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick is relatively disease and insect free, the exception being that it is somewhat susceptible to black knot and the foliage is a favourite of the Japanese Beetle. Black knot is typically seen on Schubert Chokecherry trees as a large, black mass surrounding the individual branches, disgusting looking actually. Japanese Beetles, well, enough said, they will eat anything it seems.
Be brave and try this shrub in your garden or landscape ideally in a sunny location and in prime view. They are really a carefree plant to grow with attention paid to suckering of course. This species will respond well to rich soils, producing longer and often more twisted/contorted branching with increased phosphorus feeds.
Enjoy your time with Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick in all seasons of the year.
February 1st, 2019