Forgive me for this run on nut trees. Walnut, butternut, Turkish hazlenut and now a beaked hazelnut. From the past three Tree Tuesdays /Le mardi des arbres, you’ve now seen them all, each more impressive than the next in its oddly shaped, bright green husk.
What you see here is our very own, native, hazelnut (Noisettier à long bec, Corylus cornuta). A bush no more than three metres tall, the beaked hazelnut, named for obvious reasons, is a member of our local sugar maple forest and grows from coast to coast. This one I photographed in the woods behind a Quebec government tourist station just this side of Quebec City. It was growing in the underbush of red maples; the two like wetter conditions and don’t mind a bit of shade.
You might be surprised to know that this tree is the reason behind the name of Île aux Coudres, a large, inhabited island in the Charlevoix sector of the St. Lawrence River. Jacques Cartier was so impressed by the couldres growing on the island when he set afoot in 1535, that he names it Île aux Couldres.
Couldres was the French word at the time for noisettier or, in English, hazelnut, or, in English or French, filbert (because the harvest in late summer falls close to St. Philbert day, August 22). It later becaue coudrier and, to this day, noisetiers, in Quebec, are often called coudriers. Ile aux Coudres was also known as Ile aux Coudriers. Governor Murray, not being a brilliant translator, named the island Elbow Island, for reasons obvious to the English ear; coude meaning elbow.
Cartier found the nutmeats of the coudrier of the island better than the French aveline or noisette, “may un peu plus dures,”he wrote. A recent conversation I had with a native of the island, confirmed the goodness of these nuts. As a child, he and virtually everyone on the island would collect the nuts, letting their husks dry out before removing the nut which looks like smaller version of the European hazelnut we know. Nuts, for First Nations peoples and the colonists were important sources of protein that could be stored for long periods of time and easily carried, both as food and to seed new trees.
There is another meaning to the word coudrier and that is weather vein. Throughout the Lower St-Lawrence, you will seen nailed on the outside of houses, a naked, stripped stick. In good weather, the stick is perpendicular to the wall. If rain is coming it curves downward. Sure enough, this stick is a twig of beaked hazelnut, noisettier or coudrier, as you wish. And it works, at least on the islands of the St. Lawrence, where weather can change quickly and is often independent of weather on the mainland. I know, for the three days I spent of Ile Verte, 30 minutes east of Rivière-du-Loup, is curved downwards. For those same three days, it rained or threatened rain.