As always, the first flowers of the year are the hazel catkins: a familiar and friendly sign that spring is on its way.

Hazel is monoecious, which means that the plant has both male and female flowers. The catkins are the male flowers, the pollen producers. Each one is made up of many florets and in the header picture you can see the stamens, the pollen bearing structures, in each floret.

Pictures: 1. immature male catkin, 2. male catkin in flower 3. female flower, 4. the hazel copse in Cornfield.

You have to look closely to find the female flowers. They are tiny, red, bud-like structures on the twigs that bear the catkins; they look like very small sea anemones. To avoid self-fertilisation, they usually open after the tree’s male flowers have shed their pollen.

Hazel is pollinated by the wind so the flowers, male or female, don’t have to make nectar to attract pollinating insects, but the pollen itself attracts palynivores, creatures that eat pollen. These are usually small invertebrates, mites, thrips, wasps and beetles, and early-flowering hazel catkins are an important part of their often complicated life cycles.

The next of the park’s inhabitants to flower will be the snowdrops; when you find them, take pictures and email them to us, please.

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