Back in 2006, Ferraro Rocher built a new confectionery plant in Brantford. This plant was to be the center of their North American operations. In order to run this facility at its limits 12 – 15,000 acres of hazelnuts had to be planted in Ontario. Though 80% of worldwide hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, shortages in hazelnuts brought Ferraro to Canada. Incentives through Growing Forward 2 (GF2) were made available to entrepreneurial farmers. Recently, in August 2017, the Ferraro plant had expanded, again. This is the only Ferraro plant in North America and the 8th largest plant, worldwide.
In North America, there are only 2 native species indigenous to Ontario. The American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) is our Carolinian species residing throughout much of the traditional Carolinian zone up to the Lake of Woods. The Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) is our hardy northern variety ranging throughout Ontario up to 50 degrees N.
Ferraro has very specific nut size and quality requirements which, unfortunately, our native hazelnut cannot fulfill. European hazelnuts do fulfill these specifications but cannot survive in North America. Why? The first difficulty is the Eastern Filbert Blight. The fungus Anisogramma anomola is native to North America and carries the blight. While our native Ontario hazelnuts are hosts to this fungus they are not harmed by this blight. The exact opposite is true for the European hazelnuts. The second difficulty for European hazelnut, is cold temperatures where all plant parts are killed by cold. Of special concern, is catkin survival. If catkins freeze off, then no pollinated fruit will grow – the nuts.
The obvious solution was to create hybrids. Crossing European X North American hazelnuts. To date, many varieties have been developed and tried with success. In order to maintain genetic purity of these crosses and to increase propagation rates, new rapid cloning techniques have been developed. No perpetuation of the crosses through seed production and seedlings, just clones. To see the full hazelnut story see our article under the trees tab.
My concerns lie in the promotion of these cloned varietals over native. Every time we promote non native or hybrids over native species the native species populations show a negative effect. My concerns may be unjustified but only time will tell. Just to ease my conscience and to be on the safe side, we have added this lovely tree to our species listing at our nursery.