Lambs’ Tails

Male and female hazel catkins Credit E Ó Murchú (1)

Hazel (Corylus avellana) or Coll in Irish is displaying its catkins to the wind so that when they open pollen from the dangling, yellow male catkins will fall on the short, stubby female flowers and so start the lengthy process of producing hazel nuts (1) The female flowers have red styles emerging in short spikes from the tops of the small buds in which they are encased (2).  Hazels are not self-pollinating; they need the pollen from a nearby hazel to start the process of fruit forming.

Female hazel catkin (2) Credit E Ó Murchú

The yellow colour in the male catkins is caused by the abundance of pollen which they carry.  They rely completely on the wind to carry out the pollination.  It’s a hit and miss affair but one grain will eventually land on a female flower to begin the fertilisation process leading to nut production (3).

Hazel nuts (3) Credit E Ó Murchú

Hazels produce their catkins before the leaves develop on the trees to ensure that the wind has the maximum effect on blowing the pollen about.

In Irish mythology hazel was regarded as the tree of wisdom.  The Salmon of Knowledge ate nine hazel nuts that fell from nine hazel trees around the well of wisdom. Anyone who ate the flesh of this salmon would gain all the knowledge in the world. Fionn burst a blister on this salmon as it was cooking over a fire after it was caught. He placed his burnt thumb in his mouth to alleviate the pain and all the knowledge was transferred to him.

Hazel was also regarded as one of the seven nobles of the wood in Brehon laws because it was valuable for its edible nuts which could be stored and for its flexible rods which could be used for making huts, bows, trackways, firewood and wattle and daub fencing (4).

Hazel wattle (4)