Following my Tree: August

Corylus avenllana is the proper name of the tree I am following, corkscrew hazel is its common name, and Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick is its nickname.

This nickname was what attracted me to the plant many years ago. That and a photo of a full-grown plant.

This photo of a full grown contorted hazel is from the on-line site Dave’s Garden.

I loved the twisted branches and knew it would be an outstanding plant in winter months, with the contorted branches silhouetted against the snow. Plus I was intrigued by the name. Who was Harry Lauder and why was his walking stick so crooked?

Others may know all about him, but I had to search on line to discover that Harry Lauder was a Scottish music hall comedian and singer, best known for the song he composed and sang throughout his career, “I Love a Lassie.”  (When I heard the song on You Tube, I immediately recognized the tune. If you want a dose of Scots-made-caricature, circa 1900 style, listen to all of it; otherwise, don’t bother.)

My view would not have been the norm in the 1900s: Lauder was then the highest paid performer in the world.  Sir Henry, as he later became, performed dressed in a kilt and with a cromach, a Scottish walking stick that, apparently, was made of highly polished and twisted branch from a contorted hazel.

And so we circle back to my contorted hazel, Corylus avellana.

The variety I planted is called ‘Red Majestic’ because of the colour of its leaves. When I bought it, and as the leaves emerged this spring, they were a stunning rich burgundy.

The colour of the leaves in spring and early summer is quite glorious.

But as they age, they are fading to a dark, dull green — a boring shade of green, actually. Depressing. A shade that seems to eat the sunlight and reflect nothing sunny in return.

And something is going wrong.

The colour of the leaves in early August makes the plant look like it is sick. 

Do you see the discolouration on the leaf at the left of the photo above? It seems to be wilting and turning up at the corners.  The still-green leaf below shows the problem more clearly.

What is going on here? 

Turning the leaf to examine the back, I see no signs of an infestation. We’ve had very little rain in recent times, except for the occasional downpour that has no time to sink into the ground, so the wilt may indicate a lack of moisture. But I think the problem is more serious.

Definitely looking cursed.

If anyone can suggest a cause or a solution, please do. I don’t particularly like this tree but I’d like to give it another year or two, to see the yellow catkins in the spring. If my tree ever grew into anything resembling the hazel in the photo from Dave’s Garden, I’d be thrilled. Otherwise I may have found the perfect excuse to get rid of it.

Or to give it a new nickname. You are probably familiar with the theatrical tradition that prohibits actors from pronouncing the name of the play when rehearsing or performing MacBeth. To avoid the curse that the name brings, they refer to it as the Scottish Play. But not Peter O’Toole. In contrarian fashion, he called it Harry Lauder. The connection with the kilt-wearing, cromach-carrying Scot is clear. So perhaps my dying plant will become Banquo’s Ghost.