A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

Map of the Down

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Wild flowers at Magog Down prev  :  next

Hazel - Corylus avellana

hazel_250hazelcatkins_250By mid January this year the catkins were already plump on the hazel bushes on Magog Down. Catkins are, of course, the male flowers of the bush, their pendulous habit allowing the release to every passing breeze of wind-borne pollen from their yellow anthers. The female flowers (which appear somewhat later than the catkins) are easily overlooked, consisting as they do of tight clusters of red styles no more that 5mm long. The nuts, produced in September and October are too well known to need description.

Hazel was common and widespread in Britain’s prehistoric forests and with the arrival of humans to our shores it soon found a use as a source of small poles for wattling, fencing, hurdles and huts. In my youth on the Holkham Estate we used to coppice it for pea-sticks and bean poles until, with the rise in labour costs, the price of the sticks outstripped the value of the crops they were sold to support! Hazel has a very long history as a coppiced shrub, often being cropped as an undershrub in woodland with oak standards.

The varied uses to which our ancestors put hazel wood extended from using chips of it to purify wine, to Roger Bacon’s use of charcoal made from it to manufacture gunpowder. We were always told that hazel twigs were the best ones to use for water divining. I note that some modern diviners now use wires from old coat-hangers - which always seem to me to lack that certain “something”!

Like the rowan, hazel was considered powerful against all enchantment. Its mythology is rich and its supposed magical properties were as extensive and varied as its practical uses. If, for example, you wish to become invisible, the Boke of St Albans (1496) suggests that you carry a nine foot hazel rod as thick as your arm with a smaller rod fitted into it (try that if you must, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will make you more, rather than less, conspicuous in the streets of Cambridge!).

And if you prefer mysticism to magic what better quotation can I give you than that from Dame Julian of Norwich :

"He showed me a little thing, the quality of a hazel-nut in the palm of my hand ... I looked thereon ... and thought : What can this be? And it was answered: It is all that is made. And I marvelled how it might last ... And I was answered : It lasteth and ever shall last, for that God loveth it".

David Yarham
April 2002

See also...

Report of the visit from Cambridge Natural History Society in August 2017


News about a visit by the local branch of Butterfly Conservation charity taking place in August 2016


News about the very special area of Colin's Bank, published in February 2015

Pasque Flower

One of our Friends sent us this beautiful picture of some Pasque Flowers taken in amongst the Cowslips in May 2016.pasqueflower_jb_may2016_crop_453

Photo by Jill Butler