Feb 03 2013
By Bruce Rottink, Volunteer Nature Guide
Who would have guessed that Tryon Creek State Natural Area’s first flower of 2013 would show up in January? But as they say, truth is stranger than fiction! And the award goes to — beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta), which just snuck under the wire by showing up on January 31st! The beaked hazel pictured below grows along the edge of the parking lot opposite the Nature Center.
The beaked hazel is a large woody shrub that has two different kinds of flowers, male and female, on the same plant. This female flower gets big points for its bright red color, but its size just about ensures that very few people ever notice it! You could easily hold three of these flowers on your fingertip.
In contrast to the females, the male flowers of beaked hazel can be seen more than a hundred feet away. These greenish-yellow catkins are generally 1-1/2 to 2 inches long, and produce the beaked hazel’s pollen.
These different sized flowers may seem odd, but once you understand the beaked hazel, it all makes sense.
The beaked hazel flowers aren’t pollinated by any animal; they are pollinated by the wind. This type of plant is called anemophilous, [literally: wind-loving] as opposed to plants pollinated by insects which are called entomophilous [literally: insect-loving.] So the female flower doesn’t need big showy petals to attract insects, it just needs to thrust its pollen-receiving parts (called stigmas) out into the breeze, and hope that it catches some stray pollen.
When a plant relies on the wind for pollination, it needs to produce lots and lots of pollen. The large male flowers simply release their pollen into the air, and hope for the best.
When things work out, the beaked hazel produces a large nut that is beloved by many species of wildlife such as squirrels and mice, and was also used by various Native American tribes for food.
Tryon Creek’s flower-watching season has begun. More flowers will be showing up soon. Keep an eye out on your next hike, and enjoy the spring at Tryon Creek State Natural Area.
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