Harry Lauder's Walking Stick Shrub Profile

Top Plant for Winter Interest

Image of Harry Lauder's walking stick.
Harry Lauder twists every which way but loose. David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Harry Lauder's Walking Stick:

Plant taxonomy classifies Harry Lauder's walking stick as Corylus avellana. The cultivar is 'Contorta.' The plant is in the birch family, making it a relative of birch trees.

Plant Type:

Technically, Harry Lauder's walking stick may be classified as a deciduous flowering shrub, produced by grafting. But because the rootstock in the graft provides a 4'-high trunk, this multi-stemmed bush is commonly referred to as a dwarf tree.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones:

The climate is most favorable for growing Harry Lauder's walking stick in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-8.

Characteristics of Harry Lauder's Walking Stick:

This shrub reaches approximately 10 feet tall, but it is slow to reach its mature height. Its spread can be as much as half again its height. The showy flowers of Harry Lauder's walking stick are yellowish-brown male "catkins," a term you're probably used to hearing in association with pussy willows. The plant is monoecious; the female blooms are not showy. The blooms appear in early to middle spring. However, this shrub is not grown primarily for its blooms but for its unusual branching pattern, which is indicated by its other common names: corkscrew filbert and contorted hazelnut. For, as you can see from the picture (taken in the wintertime), its branches contort themselves in every which way, resembling corkscrews.

The equivalent in the perennial world would be the corkscrew rush plant.

Notice the catkins in the upper left-hand corner of the photo: in spring they will lengthen and take on a yellow color. Winter and spring are the best seasons for this shrub. The curled leaves of summer are unremarkable and serve only to obscure the branching pattern.

This plant offers no fall-foliage color of note.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

Grow Harry Lauder's walking stick in well-drained soil, in full sun, to part shade. Its water needs are average.

Care:

Being a grafted shrub, Harry Lauder's walking stick does require some special care. The rootstock is Corylus colurna. As often happens with grafted plants, there is a tendency for suckers to shoot up from the rootstock. You must prune off these suckers so that the plant does not revert to the characteristics of its rootstock.

Fertilize the plant with compost.

How Harry Lauder's Walking Stick Got Its Name:

According to Adele Kleine of "Flower and Garden Magazine," the shrub's "appealing common name derives from the old Scottish comedian Harry Lauder who performed using a crooked branch as a cane."

Uses in Landscape Design and the Question of Nuts:

Harry Lauder's walking stick is a specimen plant. The corkscrew shape of its branches lends much-needed visual interest to the winter landscape. This cultivar rarely produces nuts.

If it's nuts you're looking for, you want the species plant, Corylus avellana, commonly called the European hazelnut tree or European filbert tree. There is also an American version: Corylus americana. I frequently encounter it on my walks through the woods and have enjoyed the sweet taste of the raw nuts on many occasions.

Winter Interest:

Harry Lauder's walking stick is a case in which one may rightly claim that a deciduous shrub truly comes into its own only after its leaves have fallen. Not that the shrub isn't attractive when fully leafed out. But the eye is especially drawn to this curious specimen in winter when many other deciduous trees and shrubs are little better than sad reminders of a defunct fall and summer. This shrub also offers visual interest in early spring to mid-spring, when it displays its wonderful catkins.

Also read 10 Best Landscaping Plants You May Not Know