Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Corylus fargesii 1996-574*-A Sunlight backlights the exfoliating bark. This tree, easily spotted on the Azalea Meadow path where it parallels Hillcrest Avenue, was collected as a seed during a 1996 Expedition to Shaanxi and Gansu. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

A lot can be gained by dissecting the name Corylus fargesii (Farges filbert). The genus name Corylus comes from the Greek krylos meaning “hazelnut.” The specific epithet fargesii  honors Père Paul Guillaume Farges (1844-1912), one of several French Catholic naturalist missionaries to China including Père David, the subject of a previous blog ;  Père Farges  sent over 4,000 plant specimens to the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, resulting in the discovery of hundreds of new species.

Corylus fargesii 1996- 574*-A Notice the husk/bracts/ involucre enclosing the nut on August 24, 2019, four days after St. Philibert’s Day. Do you see a bonnet or a beard? Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

The common name of Corylus fargesii is Farges filbert. One thought on the origin of the name “filbert” is that in England the nuts mature around August 20, the Catholic feast day of St. Philibert; other historians hold that “filbert” derives from the German vollbart meaning full beard, referring to the beard-like husk around the nut. Filbert and hazelnut are essentially interchangeable. The name “hazel” likely comes from the Anglo-Saxon word haesel, which means “bonnet” or “headdress” and again emphasizes the fancy bracts/involucre/husk surrounding the nut (see the photo for this noteworthy appearance).

The nuts produced by Corylus fargesii are edible. Most nuts sold in American grocery stores as filberts or hazelnuts are from the shrubby European filbert Corylus avellana (meaning from Avella, Italy) and cultivars/ hybrids thereof because their large nuts make them profitable; the native shrub, Corylus americana, yields edible but smaller nuts. Nutella or hazelnut coffee, anyone?

Corylus fargesii 1996- 574* Numerous pendulous male catkins characteristic of  Betulaceae, the birch family, will supply pollen to female flowers in the spring. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

The Gayle E. Maloney Director of Horticulture and Curator at the Morris Arboretum, Anthony S. Aiello, has represented Morris Arboretum on botanical expeditions to China on which C. fargesii samples have been collected in the wild. “The Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia undoubtedly has the most comprehensive collection of Corylus fargesii with plants from both the 1996 and 2005 expeditions and seedlings from the 2015 expedition.” C. fargesii was the International Dendrology Society’s 2016 Tree of the Year.

After seeing the dramatic bark, you may want this member of the birch family in your own garden; fortunately, it is becoming increasingly available in retail nurseries because of its four-season interest and disease-resistance. Before planting, though, do realize that Corylus fargesii grows to 80-100 feet in its native China and is predicted to reach at least half that height in cultivation.

At the Morris Arboretum you will encounter six other species of Corylus: C. americana, C. avellana, C. chinensis, C. colurna, C. mandshurica, and C. tibetica. Each of the names describes at least a portion of the range except for C. colurna where a portion of its range is revealed in its common name, Turkish filbert.

Many plants bear the specific epithet fargesii and, in addition to Corylus fargesii, the Morris Arboretum cultivates Abies fargesii var. faxoniana, Clethra barbinervis x fargesii, Decaisnea fargesii, and Ilex fargesii, which all conjure up the image of a 19th century French missionary who made tremendous inroads into the botanical exploration of China.

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and freelance writer.