17 May 2022

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Hazel, a source of food and building materials

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: Hazel, a source of food and building materials

Hazel catkins. Picture: Nuala Madigan

If you remember a few weeks ago, I wrote about spring catkins. This week, I noticed the catkins on the hazel (coll as Gaeilge) tree in the gardens of the Bog of Allen Nature Centre as the leaves begin to burst open.

These catkins first emerged in January, and were yellow in colour, but at this time of year have turned brown.

These catkins, once pollinated, will become the fruit or the hazel nut, but while the catkins are easily noticed by the time the hazel nuts form, they will be hidden amongst the dense large leaves.

The round leaves, though small at this time of year, will reach up to 12cm in length and 8cm wide into the summer months, and have a distinctive point at the leaf tip.

The edges are described as serrated, and each tooth has a smaller tooth, so the hazel leaf can be described as double serrated.

The leaves are also smooth to the touch, as they have tiny hairs on the underside.

The hazel tree relies on the wind to pollinate its catkins, and the hazel nuts are found in clusters of four. The hazel nut, protected in a hard outer shell known as a ‘husk’, is a food source for local wildlife including squirrels, but in years past they were also harvested by us as a source of food for the cold winter months.

It is said that a hazel tree can live up to 80 years, and it is a relatively low growing tree, when compared to others, as it grows to a height of 12m.

Housing material

The oak tree can reach a height of 30m, while a horse chestnut tree can reach up to 36m in height! The hazel tree is a native tree and the early settlers to our shores used the hardwood to build wattle and daub houses. Even to this day it is included within hedgerows to create field boundaries.

If you would like help identifying local wildlife or indeed to share your images of local wildlife you have encountered to be used in a future Wildlife Watch, contact me on 045 860133 or email

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