I want to transport you to a seedy, or perhaps I should say nutty, region of reproduction. A place where the male structures are vast in comparison to the petite & flushed female variety. But first, do you recognise this flower?
Yes, its a female Hazel (Corylus avellana) flower and that’s the region I’m talking about the spring hedgerow.
The male flowers, that we often call catkins or lamb’s tails are borne on the same tree as the females and are left to hang in the breeze, thereby distributing pollen on the wind.
It is normally February when the catkins open, they first formed back in October or November last year. The male catkins are typically 5cm long, possibly up to 10cm; yet the female flower is tiny with the crimson stamen measuring only 2 – 3 mm. Pollen, carried on the wind, lands on the sticky stamen & fertilises the flower. Note: Hazel is not self pollinating, pollen from a different Hazel tree must fall on the stamen for pollination to take place
Nut clusters will now form at the site of the female flower, ripening in autumn. These nuts are a valuable feed source for many creatures (ourselves included); indeed the hazel relies upon this fact so that animals like squirrels will collect, horde, & loose nuts. This disperses the Hazel’s seed & helps to guarantee a new generation of Hazel trees.
Hazels are a member of the Betulaceae or Birch family. As well as producing edible nuts they have been used in various woodcrafts for many centuries. Wattle hurdles, Hazel walking sticks and Sheppard’s crooks are a few of the uses. The nut shells have recently been discovered to contain useful anti-cancer drug components. Environmentally Hazels are known to be important members of British woodland, they support many lichens & fungi, their leaves are good food for deer and the nuts I’ve already mentioned.
The image above shows Hazel Pollen imaged at x200 magnification with a light microscope.
Trivia: In Celtic myth the Hazel is believed to collect knowledge & wisdom in its nuts, those who consume the nuts may inherit the wisdom.