Questions on: Contorta
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: I'm writing with some information on Harry Lauder's Walking Stick. I planted one eight years ago, and it's still living. I mulch it very well in the fall of the year, about the same time I mulch my roses I admit it grows very, very slowly, but it is growing. (Ada, Minn.)
A: Thank you for the information. For those who may not know, the walking stick, a member of the birch family, is a shrub with contorted branches. I remember the walking sticks quite well from living in Ohio. I am glad they can make it here with some help.
Q: I am looking for some information on Corylus avellana Contorta, sometimes called Contorted Weeping Filbert and Harry Lauder's Unique Walking Stick. The catalog that I saw it in did not give any growing zone information but did say that it was sub-zero hardy. Will this shrub survive in North Dakota? (Minot, N.D., e-mail)
A: Nope! That statement "sub-zero hardiness" sounds OK to southerners, but to us Yankees, we want to know how much sub-zero it can take! If you were living in the "banana-belt" region of our state, I'd say perhaps it might make it. These are generally expensive plants and I would not like to see you waste money on something that would not survive.
Q: I am looking for information on Corylus avellana `Contorta,' sometimes called `Contorted Weeping Filbert' and `Harry Lauder's Unique Walking Stick.' The catalog that I saw it in did not have any growing zone information but did say that it was subzero hardy. I was wondering if this shrub would survive in North Dakota. (Minot, N.D., e-mail)
A: The `Contorta' is an interesting landscape specimen, and when I lived in Ohio, it was a favorite of landscape designers and architectsto work one into the setting in some way as a focal plant. Unfortunately, they are not hardy in North Dakotaat least not dependably so. This plant was discovered in England in the last century and was at first grafted onto the species rootstock which created maintenance miseries from all the suckering that took place from the roots. Nowadays, most material sold in nurseries is cloned and does not have the problem. So, if you ever move to a warmer zone, 4 or 5, look this one up, but be sure that it is a clone and not a grafted specimen.
Q: I'm interested in planting Harry Lauder's Walking Stick for its beauty but I also would like to eat the filberts/hazelnuts. Only the Sunset Western Gardening Book mentions that the nuts from this shrub-tree are "good" in flavor. Do you know if the walking stick actually produces edible nuts, and are they reasonably good eating? (E-mail reference, Cedar City, Utah)
A: The Harry Lauder's Walkingstick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') is grown for the unique, twisted shape that the branches and leaves form in the landscape, not for the edible nuts, which occur only rarely in landscape settings. I would suggest that if you want the nuts for eating that you grow the American or European species and not this expensive cultivar. Besides, if it did produce nuts, every squirrel within miles would be fighting each other to harvest them before you could get to them. I assume you saw this at a local nursery or garden center and know whether or not it is hardy to your particular area of Utah.
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