American Filbert

Corylus americana

Description & Overview

American Filbert, also known as American Hazelnut, is a suckering shrub native to the edges and understory of Wisconsin woodlands. A versatile plant, it grows in a wide variety of conditions. Combine with the fact that it attracts many species of wildlife and has four-season interest, American Filbert is an excellent choice for woodland gardens and naturalized areas.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 8 feet
Mature Spread: 8 feet
Growth Rate: Moderate
Growth Form: Upright multi-stemmed shrub, rounded habit, dense in full sun, thicket-forming
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Average medium to well-drained soil
Flower: Catkin
Bloom Period: March to April
Foliage: Dark green, ovate, serrate
Fall Color: Orange, red, or purple
Fruit Notes: Edible nut ½”

Salable #5 containers. Developing edible nuts. Pictures taken mid-July.

Suggested Uses:

American Filbert prefers full sun to part shade. It will grow in full shade; however, the form will be more open and growth rate more moderate. Nut production is also reduced in shade. According to the Morton Arboretum, American Filbert can also be grown in dry shady areas with a layer of organic mulch, as long as it is monitored for water during periods of drought. It is tolerant of drought and variable soil pH if grown in well-drained soil, and can handle dry, moist, clay, or sandy soil conditions.

American Filbert makes for an interesting hedge, a great border plant, or a green screen in areas where it can spread. It’s the perfect addition to natural areas to add visual interest and provide habitat and nourishment for wildlife.

Include in an edible garden or “food forest” to enjoy the delicious nuts that make a great substitute for walnuts in chocolate chip cookies! Once established and at bearing age of between three to five years, a sizable crop should be produced almost every year.

Add American Filbert to a native or pollinator garden as it is a host plant for a significant number of beneficial moths.

Corylus americana is the earliest native plant to bloom in southeastern Wisconsin, a welcome sight in the garden in late winter. You will find male and female flowers on the same plant. Male flowers, which develop in fall, are large (2-3” long) pendulous showy catkins, yellowish brown in color, while the female flowers are petite, reddish-pink catkins.

The male catkins sway in the wind and provide winter interest and in early Spring, bloom and turn bright yellow providing a welcome burst of color. Dark green foliage emerges next, with ridges and doubly serrate margins. Meanwhile, large clumps of 2 to 5, 1/2-inch nuts emerge from the female flowers, covered in hairy jagged-edged husk-like bracts. The nuts mature between September and October and have an intense flavor and that is enhanced with roasting. People and animals enjoy the nuts, which have a similar flavor to commercially cultivated European and hybrid hazelnuts. In fall, leaves turn a range of vibrant oranges, reds, and purples.

Nut production is variable, and not as prolific as European hazelnuts. It is recommended to plant multiples to increase chances for higher yields of hazelnuts, if desired. Harvest them while the husks are still green, after nuts have turned tan in color, to out-compete animals.

Wildlife Value:

Hazelnuts have a higher nutritional value than acorns and are a protein source for many types of wildlife, including Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse (also eat the male catkins in winter), Bobwhite Quail, Prairie Chicken, pheasants, and Red-bellied woodpeckers and Blue Jays. Chipmunks, Gray, Fox, and Red squirrels, White-footed mice, Deer mice, foxes, and black bears also enjoy the nuts.

Thickets provide shelter and nesting areas for wildlife as well. Beavers, nature’s engineers, will use the stems as food and as building materials for dams.

American Filbert is a host plant to caterpillars of the Saturniidae family, some of the most spectacular moths in North America, including the beautiful green Luna moth (Actias luna) and the large, strikingly patterned Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia). The plant is also a host to the Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis), Polyphemus moth (Antheracea Polyphemus), Corylus Dagger moth (Acronicta falcula), Zebra Caterpillar moth (Melanchra picta), Mottled Bomolocha (Bomolocha palparia), American Dagger moth (Acronicta americana), Alder Tubemaker moth (Acrobasis rubrifasciella), Zigzag Herpetogramma moth (Herpetogramma thestealis), Filbert Worm moth (Melissopus latiferreanus), and Case-Bearing moth (Coleophora corylifoliella). In our area, typically the caterpillars are not prolific enough to cause significant damage.

Interesting insects that feed on the foliage and wood of American Filbert include Northern Walkingsticks (Diapheromera femoratum), Hazelnut Weevils (Curculio obtusus), Eastern Babia (Babia quadriguttata), Stink Bugs (Dendrocoris humeralis), and Gall gnats (Cecidomyia squamulicola).

Maintenance Tips:

American Filbert requires minimal maintenance if sited appropriately. Pruning suckers will prevent or reduce thicket-formation. This native woodland understory plant prefers loamy well-drained soil but tolerates a wide range of soil conditions including alkaline soil, occasional drought, as well as clay soil. It will grow in shade, but it grows more vigorously in full sun. American Filbert is tolerant of black walnut and is moderately deer resistant. It is not salt tolerant.


Expect no serious pest or disease issues with American Filbert. You may experience occasional Filbert blight, but it is not seriously damaging to the native species, unlike Turkish and European Filbert. Japanese beetles, scale insects, and some caterpillars feed on American Filbert, but are not a serious threat to the plant.

Leaf Lore:

The genus Corylus describes the shape of the seed bract and is derived from the Greek word “korylos” or “korys” which means helmet. The specific epithet means “from the Americas.”

There is also a native filbert called Beaked Hazelnut, Corylus cornuta, which is similar to the American Filbert but prefers drier soils.

The Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota are collaborating on a development initiative to produce native hazelnuts commercially and sustainably in the upper Midwest. To read more about this interesting project, visit Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative.

American Filbert has a long list of historical uses beyond culinary purposes. Chippewa boiled nuts to make a black dye, and used the wood for drumsticks, brooms, and brushes. The Iroquois used a decoction to treat vomiting, diarrhea and cramps, ease toothaches, and prenatal treatments.

Companion Plants:

With its versatility and adaptability to different site conditions, there are few limitations on what to plant with American Filbert. Combine with other edible plants such as Black Cherry, Shagbark Hickory, American Elderberry, Nannyberry Viburnum, Running Serviceberry, Bladdernut, or New Jersey Tea.

Shrub companions include Gray Dogwood, Common Witchhazel, Winterberry, Common Snowberry, Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle, or Eastern Wahoo.

Intermingle perennials with American Filbert such as Giant Solomon’s Seal, Shooting Star, Wild Geranium, Red Milkweed, White Turtlehead, or Christmas Fern. Incorporate ornamental grasses alongside American Filbert like Little Bluestem, Pennsylvania Sedge, or Northern Sea Oats.


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