"I love a lassie, a bonnie Hielan' lassie..." Famous Scottish entertainer Sir Harry Lauder's trademark was a polished walking stick made from Corylus avellana 'contorta'. So popular was the singer and vaudevillian with both the masses and royalty that this unusual shrub was named after him.
(Editor's note:this article was originally published on Decemer 29, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') is a cultivar of Hazel, though 'Contorta' does not produce nuts. Sometimes called European Filbert, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick was first discovered in the mid-1800s in England. Prized for its unique twisted branches and gnarled trunk, this shrub has gained popularity in gardens everywhere. And with good reason.
Harry Lauder's Walking Stick is far from picky about location, light, water, or soil; it also resists most diseases and pests. The only documented problems are foliage or twig blight and spider mites and leafhoppers. The shrub is deciduous and hardy in Zones 4B through 8, and is not considered to be invasive.
Growth rate is slow, reaching heights of 5 to 10 feet and spreading 8 to 12 feet, making it a perfect focal point for the garden. The shrub can be planted in either acidic or slightly alkaline soil, sand, loam, or clay. 'Contorta' has a high tolerance for drought and thrives in either part shade or full sun.
Like all Hazels, this variety produces flowers called catkins, which are wind-pollinated. The pale yellow catkins persist well into winter, a lovely contrast against the gnarly brown branches that are revealed after the leaves drop.
Common Hazel is grown commercially for nut production predominantly in Oregon and Washington, as well as British Columbia, but Harry Lauder's Walking Stick can be found in other regions of the U.S. The Plant Files here at Dave's Garden list three vendors for the shrub, and an Internet search will turn up others with mail-order capability. The best source is, of course, an established nursery or garden center in your own area.
Two other varieties of this charming shrub are available:
Weeping Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Pendula') Similar to 'Contorta', this variety is grafted onto a standard at about 48 inches. The dark green leaves and weeping branches make it an unusual and lovely focal point. More compact, this shrub grows 6 to 8 feet high and spreads 6 to 8 feet.
Red Corkscrew Hazelnut (Corylus avellana contorta 'Red Majestic') Also called Contorted Filbert, this one has year 'round appeal. Deep purple-red leaves emerge in the spring, then as summer commences, the old foliage fades to green while the new leaves emerge bright red. Even the catkins are purple! Larger than 'Pendula', this one grows to a height of 8 to 10 feet with a similar spread of 6 to 8 feet.
Aside from the obvious use as an ornamental specimen in the landscape, this shrub provides florists and crafty folks with beautiful material for arrangements.
As a conversation starter, central focus of a garden, or striking winter interest, Harry Lauder's Walking Stick won't be upstaged. And neither would Sir Harry!
Top image of Sir Harry Lauder on vintage sheet music; from Wikipedia GNU Free Documentation License
Corylus avellana 'Contorta' shrub photo by Malcolm Gin; from Wikipedia GNU Free Documentation License
Catkins image by Wildfeuer; from Wikipedia GNU Free Documentation License
About Toni Leland
Toni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.