Winter treasure 6: Hazel Catkins

28/1/2018 I think my eyes are slowly becoming more attuned to winter goings on. I noticed catkins on the hazels before the end of December, and early in January I went up to examine them at close quarters. They were brown, small and hard. Only a few days later, however, amongst the hard catkins I started to see just as many long, floppy, yellow-green ones, which caught the sunlight and lit up the hedgerows better than any Christmas lights. I didn’t remember hazels flowering in the middle of winter, and I wondered briefly if they were a different species of hazel, or perhaps not hazel at all. Apparently, a tree that I took for granted around my garden and in the hedgerows was a mystery to me as far as its flowering habits were concerned. Research was clearly required.

catkins

I soon confirmed they were all the same species: common hazel. The first few descriptions of hazel catkins I found stated that they flowered in very early spring. By no possible definition can January be described as spring, despite certain signs that might lure us into believing that spring is around the corner. Searching further, I eventually found more sensible descriptions informing me that catkins were formed in autumn, and that they could break dormancy any time from mid-December to late April, depending on the weather. The mix of dormant and flowering catkins must have been a case of something I’d noticed many times before in other species: individual trees – even in the same location – doing what they want, when they want.

I don’t know why I only noticed the catkins in December; nor why I never noticed before that hazels flower so early in the new year. Of course the explanation may be simply that the dormant catkins are small and well hidden until the last leaves drop from the trees, and that they are flowering earlier than usual this year, after our December cold spell. But really all that matters is this: they used to pass me by, and now they don’t. Those golden ‘lambs’ tails’ have been a highlight of my January this year, and I have a new-found appreciation for the humble hazel.