About our hybrid hazelnuts
Species hybrid hazelnuts—crosses of many generations among American, Beaked, and European species—have been bred and extensively examined at Badgersett Research Farm for nearly 20 years.
Badgersett hazels are crosses between 3 species
Hazelnuts grow wild all around the Northern Hemisphere, and wherever they are found, the local people eat all they can get. There are about 10 species, belonging to the genus Corylus in the Birch family. Many people know them by the name "filbert", but to cut down on confusion the industry has opted to call all the nuts from the various species "hazelnuts". We have two species in North America, the American hazel (Corylus americana) and the Beaked hazel (C. cornuta), both of which are bushes. At present, all of the nuts in the world market come from the European species (C. avellana), which is a small tree. The hybrids we are developing at Badgersett are crosses among these three species. Our own lines were founded primarily on other breeders' original crosses made in the 1930's and 1940's.
If you read much about hazels you will eventually run into the terms "hazelbert", "filazel", and "trazel" for various kinds of hybrids. We find these distinctions more confusing than useful ("New York Hazelberts" and "Wisconsin Hazelberts" are very different kinds of plants), and prefer simply to call all these plants hybrid hazels.
Our hazels are different
These hybrids differ substantially from the hazelnut cultivars presently grown in the Pacific Northwest. Those plants are largely derived from southern Mediterranean hazel populations, which are broadly susceptible to Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB), rarely hardy outside zone 5, and pruned into growing as small trees. Our hybrids contribute North American genes for cold hardiness and continental climate, as well as resistance to EFB, making it possible for the first time to grow productive hazels reliably outside the Pacific Northwest region.
Our main hybrid line is a mix of native Wisconsin and Iowa wild hazels with the commercial European varieties. In general, their nuts are 100-300% larger than the wild hazels, with thinner shells, and most have kernels well within the commercial processing size range. They are completely cold hardy here and have the native hazel's resistance to EFB. They have also proven themselves highly drought resistant—they came through our extreme drought years of 1988-89 with flying colors, bearing good crops both years (actually, a larger crop in '89). While these hybrids must still be considered experimental, 20 years of preliminary testing has shown them to be extremely interesting and worthy of wider trials.