Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick is a plant lover’s plant. It is one of the most unusual plants you will ever see. It captures peoples’ attention from the first time they see it. If you have one in your yard, your neighbors will probably be asking you about it before long.
Botanically known as Corylus Avellana Contorta, and contorta tells the tale. Other common names include ‘Contorted Filbert’, ‘Contorted Hazel’ or ‘Corkscrew Hazel’.
Although technically it belongs to the hazelnut genus (corylus), it doesn’t produce nuts. Apparently it’s nutty enough in its growth habit! It is considered an ornamental shrub and it is highly valued for its ornamental appeal.
The branches, as the name suggests grow in heavily spiraled and twisted forms. It is truly a wonderful plant! There are other ‘contorted’ plants, but Harry Lauders really takes it to a whole new level.
It forms yellow catkins in late winter or early spring just before the leaves arrive. This adds to the winter interest, especially if there is any snow on the ground. By the way, snow on a Harry Lauder is pretty spectacular!
The leaves it produces are nice, but not particularly showy. They are green and crinkly, which does make them stand out a bit from most other plants in your garden. Those leaves turn to yellow in November and drop by December 1. The brown crinkly leaves on the ground make an attractive winter mulch. But really, this tree is all about the branches. If you want a plant that looks great in winter, this is about the best there is.
Here in the northwest we are blessed with four distinct seasons. However, most gardeners think plants can only be truly appreciated in three of those seasons. Not true! There are many that put on their best show during the winter months, after the leaves have fallen off. Red twig dogwoods come to mind. Also most willows. But there is really nothing else quite like Harry, as I like to call this plant.
Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (HLWS) grows very easily in our climate, and also is hardy down to zone 4. It is also one of the few plants that has no serious disease or insect problems. It also grows well in most soil conditions and in full sun or partial shade. If your thumb is more brown than green, you might want to give Harry a try. He will reward you with many years of easy going entertainment.
Typically this plant is grown in shrub form, and can reach a height and width of about 8-10 feet. It can easily be maintained to a much shorter shrub, though. It can also be trained into a tree form. Place it in a border or use it as a specimen. Any way you grow it, it will bring a unique accent to your garden.
Harry Lauder may be a popular plant, but it isn’t easy to find. Sometimes you’ll come across a few in a garden center, and they usually sell for $79 or more in a 2 or 3 gallon container! It won’t grow true from seed and is very difficult to propagate by cuttings, which is why it is usually a grafted plant.
Harry doesn’t need a lot of care, but there is one thing to be aware of. Because he is a grafted plant, the rootstock tends to sucker. It’s important to cut those suckers off early. They won’t be contorted like the rest of the plant and will generally ruin the whole plant. No big deal, just snip off the suckers, growing from the base of the plant. Cut them right at the trunk and that will take care of them.