Some shrubs and trees that have shed their leaves look forlorn and miserable in winter. However, there is an exception: Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’). This bizarre-looking small tree or large thicket-forming shrub looks its best after it sheds it leaves. Harry Lauder’s walking stick produces an assortment of twisted, curly twigs and dangling male flowers called catkins that creates a spectacular come-outside-and-look sight. This living sculpture becomes even more sublime with every passing year.
Harry Lauder’s walking stick was discovered by Victorian gardener Canon Ellacombe growing in a hedgerow around 1863 near Frocester, in Gloucester, England. Apparently it was a “sport” or mutation of the European filbert (C. avellana), which is cultivated for its delicious nuts.
The twisted, misshapen twigs were not named after a famous contortionist, as you would assume, but in honor of the Scottish entertainer, Harry Lauder (1870-1950). Actually, it was named after Sir Lauder’s twisted walking stick, his companion on stage as this Scottish baritone sang ballads and comic songs.
Despite its English roots, Harry Lauder’s walking stick performs well in the Carolinas. Expect it to grow 10 ft. high and wide. Because ‘Harry Lauder’ is almost always grafted on European filbert understock, it suckers heavily. The suckers should be promptly removed at the base to prevent the slower-growing scion from being crowded out by the more vigorous understock.
Although Harry Lauder does not bear any edible nuts, it acts like a magnet to attract inquisitive neighbors and passersby. Harry Lauder’s walking stick will get people talking.
Bob Polomski © 2017