Excellent Design Plant: Harry Lauder's Walking Stick

Not many plants boast a much better guise without their leaves, and Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) is probably the most distinct of them. Named for a connoisseur of unusual walking sticks, this contorted specimen shines when its deciduous neighbors are dormant. There is nothing forgettable relating to this plant, as you won’t find it anywhere.


Botanical name: Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’
Common names: Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, corkscrew hazelnut, contorted hazelnut
USDA zones: 4 to 8 (find your zone)
Water requirement: Regular
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Mature size: 8 to 10 feet tall and broad
Benefits and tolerances: Deer resistant; nuts attract wildlife
Seasonal interest: Deciduous; flowers in early spring on bare branches; beautiful winter interest when gnarled branches are vulnerable
When to plant: Plant cuttings in spring.


Distinguishing traits. That is a plant of distinguishing traits — by its colorful pendulous catkins to its distinct corkscrew branching construction. Its attractive foliage is perhaps the most memorable characteristic.

The twisted form of Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick reaches 8 to 10 feet tall and wide over an elongated time period. It is deciduous, so its smooth, gnarled branches have been obscured by medium-green leaves from spring through fall. After the leaves yellow and drop, but the plant shows its distinct and architectural form in the winter landscape.


In late winter to early spring, 2- to 3-inch yellow catkins hang from branches that are bare. The plant infrequently produces raw nuts that are treats to wildlife.

Lenkin Design Inc: Garden and Landscape Design

The best way to use it. Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick is a specimen plant and should be a prominent accent in the garden. Consider the view once the branches are bare. Place it against a light-colored wall for stark contrast, as shown here, or where light will emphasize its own form. In spring and summer it creates a denser screen. Cut branches also make a beautiful floral arrangement.

Planting notes. ‘Contorta’ thrives in rich, well-drained soil that’s somewhat moist. It is not the fastest grower, so be patient.

The plant spreads by suckers, and many specimens are grafted on the rootstalk of the pure Corylus avellana species. If you purchase a specimen that’s been grafted, suckers will shoot straight up and should be removed immediately. This can be time consuming. Be conscious of the difference when you buy your plant. In the winter, thin branches to improve and accentuate its shape as well as to wash out the tree up.

The plant is quite disorder free but is susceptible to Eastern filbert blight, causing planting limitations in some areas. Japanese beetles can attack leaves; eliminate them by hand to control the damage. Long-term damage isn’t a significant concern, but it’s best to eliminate beetles regularly.

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