Nature on our doorsteps: Noble Hazel

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

The Hazel is one of the earliest hedgerow trees to flower in springtime. 

Its bunches of dangling yellow catkins have been in flower for the last month or so, shaking pollen directly into the wind. 

By autumn Hazels female flowers have developed into nutritious hazelnuts 1

By autumn, Hazel's female flowers have developed into nutritious hazelnuts

If these tiny pollen grains successfully fertilise Hazel’s small red female flowers, hazel nuts will form.  These will spend summertime swelling and growing, ripening in time for autumn.

While hazelnuts are an important food source for small mammals like wood mice and squirrels, Hazel also provided important nourishment for people in the past.

These nuts are rich in proteins and fats, and because they will store well for a few months, they helped to extend vital food supplies into the winter.  

In Irish folklore, Hazel was also a sacred plant. Along with Oak, Ash, Holly, Wild Apple, Yew, and Pine, it was counted as one of the ‘Airig Fedo’, or Noble Trees of the Wood.

Hazels yellow catkins carry male flowers while the smaller red flowers are female 1

Hazel's yellow catkins carry male flowers, while the smaller red flowers are female

Hazel was regarded as the tree of knowledge and poetic inspiration.

 It was said to have grown around the pool which held the Salmon of Knowledge and, because it fed on the nuts which dropped into the water, the fish acquired all the knowledge of the world. 

This knowledge was transferred to the warrior hero Fionn MacCumhail when he accidently burnt his finger while the fish was being cooked.    

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