How to Grow and Care for Harry Lauder's Walking Stick (Contorted Filbert)

Harry lauder's walking stick shrub with twisted stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Harry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta'), also known as contorted filbert, is a deciduous woody shrub with gnarly, twisted branches. Rounded green leaves are serrated and slightly hairy. Yellow catkins hanging from the branches create quite a show in the late winter or early spring. 'Contorta' is a sport—a naturally occurring variation of Corylus avellana, a shrub commonly known as the common hazel or European filbert. The 'Contorta' variation was discovered during the mid-1800s in England. The plant's common name comes from a well-known Scottish entertainer in the early 20th century who always carried a twisted cane onstage.

Growing to a maximum height of 8 to 10 feet, this shrub is commonly used in hedge and screen borders where the interesting stems can be observed up close. Winter and spring are the best seasons for this shrub. This plant offers no fall-foliage color of note.

The cut zig-zag stems are frequently used in decorative arrangements.

Common Name Harry Lauder's walking stick, contorted filbert, corkscrew hazel
Botanical Name Corylus avellana 'Contorta'
Family Betulaceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 8–10 ft. tall, 8-10 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial 
Soil Type Loamy, moist, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones 4–8 (USDA)
Native Area Europe
Harry lauder's walking stick with stems twisted in sunlight
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Harry lauder's walking stick shrub with yellow stems
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Harry lauder's walking stick shrub with tall twisted branches
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova
Harry lauder's walking stick with twisted branches extending to blue sky
The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick Care

This slow-growing shrub is normally planted from balled-and-burlapped specimens or container plants in fall or spring.

During the first few years after planting, water it quite frequently in the absence of rain to help the shrub establish a strong root system; you can water less frequently once the shrub is mature.

One of the regular maintenance tasks is the removal of the root suckers as they appear. Since these grow from the rootstock, they will not have the contorted shape found on the grafted branches. Pruning is normally done to maximize the appearance of the interesting twisty branches; the foliage is bland.

Light

Plant contorted filbert shrubs in full sun to part shade.

Soil

This shrub prefers well-drained loam rich in organic material and may struggle in dense clay soils. It has very good tolerance for alkaline soils. However, if the soil structure or nutrition is not ideal, dig in organic amendments before planting.

Water

Contorted filbert needs about 1 inch of water per week during the growing season. However, excessive water can cause the roots to rot, especially in soils that are dense. Frequent watering is more important when the shrubs are young.

Temperature and Humidity

This sturdy hedge shrub tolerates a wide range of temperature and humidity conditions.

Fertilizer

Contorted filbert usually requires no feeding, but if soil tests indicate a deficit, fertilize in late fall or early spring with a granular slow-release balanced fertilizer.

Contorted Filbert Varieties

There are three notable cultivars of Coryllus avellana:

  • 'Red Majestic' has burgundy-colored new growth, which gives the shrub more summer appeal than the traditional 'Contorta'. It has pink catkins that are somewhat more attractive than the yellow-brown catkins found on 'Contorta.'
  • 'Red Dragon' has burgundy-colored catkins, leaf buds, and foliage.
  • 'Roter Zeller' has leaves that start out red in the spring and turn bronze-colored over the summer. The catkins are reddish-purple.

Pruning

Inspect the shrub monthly for suckers, which should be cut off. Trimming the bush is usually done to enhance the visibility of the contorted, twisty branches, as well as to control the size of the shrub.

Make each cut about 1/8 inch above a leaf bud, and make sure to make clean cuts without crushing the branches. Be judicious and conservative with trimming, as this is a slow-growing shrub that will require time to recover. To train the plant as a small tree, cut away the lower branches, leaving a central trunk.

Propagating Contorted Filbert

As a grafted plant, usually on the rootstock of the American filbert, C. americana. contorted filbert is difficult to propagate. Neither the seeds nor the root suckers can be reproduced true to the original plant.

Potting and Repotting

Because of its mature width of up to 10 feet, as well as the many suckers emerging from the grafted rootstocks, container growing is not a good option for Harry Lauder's walking stick.

Overwintering

Contorted filbert is hardy to USDA zone 4 and does not need any winter protection.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

The shrub is highly susceptible to Eastern filbert blight, a fungus that causes branches to die. If not treated, it eventually kills the plant.

Occasional disease problems include black knot, crown gall, apple mosaic virus, and leaf spot. Affected branches should be removed and destroyed, but viruses, in particular, are very hard to treat. These problems can be minimized by using sanitized tools when trimming and by keeping the ground around the shrubs free of debris. Leaf spots can be treated with fungicides.

Scale insects and Japanese beetles can attack the plant. To control the scale, spray with organic Neem oil at the first sign of their presence. Japanese beetles are easily picked off by hand and drowned in a can of soapy water.

Common Problems with Harry Lauder's Walking Stick

If your shrub gets Eastern filbert blight, it often goes unnoticed because the diseased parts–distorted and swollen branches and cracks in the bark–blend in with the naturally contorted branches. Inspect the shrub carefully if you have other filberts growing nearby that could infect it.

FAQ
  • Does the shrub have showy flowers?

    In the spring, Harry Lauder's walking stick has yellowish-brown catkins from the male flowers. The female flowers are nondescript.

  • Is contorted filbert a tree or a shrub?

    It is considered a shrub but some nurseries graft the stems onto a host shrub about 4 feet high, so it has a growth habit similar to a dwarf tree.

  • Does Harry Lauder's walking stick produce nuts?

    It produces nuts but they are usually eaten by wildlife. It is mainly grown as an ornamental shrub.

Article Sources
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  1. Contorted Filbert: A Gnarly Problem Plant. Purdue University.