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Hazelnut Plant Identification Guide

Hazelnut Plant Identification Guide

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The Hazelnut is a native shrub to North America. You should be able to, except for the US southwest and Gulf coast, find hazelnut plants growing. Once located, remember where they are since nuts are an important food source. Count yourself lucky if you can forage such a free food. Their leaves, twigs, and catkins (male flowers) are important for wildlife. They are browsed by rabbits, deer, and moose and are winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse to name just a few of the dependent animals. The dense shrub provides cover and nesting sites for many wildlife species.

This plant has separate male and female parts on the same branch. A single shrub will produce some nuts, but as a wind-pollinated species 3-5 shrubs are recommended for optimal nut production.

Common names

American hazelnut, American Filbert, American hazel, America hazelnut, beaked hazelnut, California hazelnut


The shrub is deciduous and grows from 3’ – 15’ tall. Once established, it grows by its spreading rhizomes forming thickets.

The main stems are straight with spreading branches. The coloration is light brown with red-hairs. 

Leaves grow alternate and are broad oval with a heart-shaped or rounded base. They are approximately 3 inches – 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The leaf edges are doubly serrate, hairy beneath, the petiole with stiff, glandular hairs. The leaves turn orange to red or purple in the fall.

Male and female flowers are separate, but both types grow on each plant. Male flowers, in small clusters – maybe 2 to 3 flowers per cluster, form as catkins that are 3 inches to 5 inches long in the fall. They will winter and open the next spring as yellow. Female flowers form and are tiny and inconspicuous with only bright red stigma and styles protruding from the gray-brown buds near the end of the twigs.

Clusters of 2 -6 of the acorn-like nuts about 1 inch long and a bit wider will grow after pollination. The nuts are enclosed in two toothed leafy husks


Plants can grow in sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil.

Hazelnut map

They (several species) are widespread in North America, Maine west to Saskatchewan and North Dakota, south to eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Georgia, not found along the Gulf coast region or Southwest USA

When foraging, look in moist to dry woods and thickets, forest margins, roadsides, and fencerows and other disturbed areas. Also search streamside as long as the soil is not boggy.


Hazelnut shrubs flower from March thru May before the plant leaf’s out. The nuts (fruits) form and ripen in the July – October time period. Late summer thru fall is the time to harvest. Be careful if you wait to long you will lose out to wildlife. Visa versa – if you get there first, make sure you leave a good amount for wildlife.


The nuts of hazelnuts are sweet and may be eaten raw, dried and roasted or ground into flour (gluten free).   

Interesting Notes

The nuts of American hazelnut, which have a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts, also are eaten by squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, pheasants, and deer. 

Plants of American hazelnut may begin producing seed after the first year and produce good seed crops every 2-3 years. 

American hazelnut is not affected by any serious pests. 

Hazel flowers are wind-pollinated, so no bees or butterflies are needed for pollination.

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USDA plant guide