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Badgersett Hazelnut Breeding Background Information

Our hazelnut plants are open-pollinated seedlings grown from seed from selected mother plants from identified breeding lines. Because each plant is a genetically unique seedling, individual performance will vary. The cream of the crop will be excellent, and according to Badgersett, 50-60% should resemble their female parent strongly enough to produce useful crop yields. Others will be a varying mixture of mediocre, strange, and total junk!

Selections are based upon the following criteria, roughly in order of importance. Keep in mind that no plants are yet the perfect combination of all these factors (let us know if you’ve got one!), and that there are always improvements to be made. If the following is too much detail, skip back to the collection page to order plants. If you’d like even more detail, refer to Badgersett’s (highly recommended!) book, Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts, their website www.badgersett.com (some of the information there needs updating, but most is still relevant and highly informative), or email us. The information here is almost entirely derived from direct communication and experience with Badgersett, the book, or the website.

1. Heavy crop loads over multiple years. Total pounds of kernel per acre is the most important factor, and also reflects adaptation to the climate, pest, and disease dynamics of the particular site, and the Upper Midwest in general.

2. Performance/consistency of the selection’s half-sibling breeding lines (both in Illinois and often also at Badgersett) and long-term performance and genetic background of the selection’s maternal parent plant (sometimes also its maternal grandmother) at Badgersett. Some of these records go all the way back to database entries from the mid-1980s. Other data include “soft” data drawn from Badgersett’s decades of experience (the artistic side of woody plant breeding) – for example, inspired hypotheses about useful breeding combinations, or visual assessments of crop loads, kernel qualities, and plant health over a number of years.

3. Kernel size. Size isn’t everything, especially for a large-scale crop that will be harvested and processed entirely by machines, but we avoid selling seedlings of plants with tiny nuts unless specifically requested. Following Badgersett’s experience, the majority of the most productive plants, in terms of kernel/acre, tend to be bushes with medium size nuts. Most of what we sell would be considered medium or large nuts by Badgersett’s catalog; we’ve lumped the small number of XL-nut selections in with the Larges, for simplicity’s sake. Most of the large nut selections are also tall-statured bushes with a greater resemblance to the European hazelnut.

4. Climate adaptation. Climate/cold hardiness are genetically fixed in the Illinois population. Rock solid for USDA zones 4-6 and you should have a reasonable expectation of success in zones 3-7 (see ‘Hardiness Zone’ under ‘Growing Habitat Traits' here:


5. EFB resistance/tolerance. EFB resistance/tolerance is genetically fixed in the Illinois field at a very high level. Badgersett has selected for resistance/tolerance to EFB since the very beginning of its breeding program in the early 1980s (which itself built on the work of other breeders to develop cold-hardy, EFB-resistant hybrid hazels from the 1910s through the 1980s, particularly Carl Weschcke of River Falls, WI). EFB has been present in the Illinois field since at least 2010, and the small proportion of EFB-susceptible plants have either died or withered largely into irrelevance. Some plants will develop modest EFB cankers as they age, usually on old or damaged stems. That’s normal and not a problem for plant health and crop performance. The occasional plant (about 5% of the total) might develop more serious problems with EFB depending upon the background of the specific breeding line and the vagaries of genetic recombination, or if the plant is being severely stressed by extremely poor management. 95% is good enough!

6. Big bud mite (BBM) resistance/tolerance – plants that consistently bear large crops in the long-term presence of BBM are most likely resistant/tolerant. BBM has been well-established in the field at least since 2010 (noted here: http://badgersettresearch.blogspot.com/2010/09/illinois-harvest-info.html), and demonstrated by moderately to severely affected plants scattered throughout the planting. The field has yet to be culled for BBM susceptibility (which means they’re still able to cast some pollen), so a relatively small proportion of the seedlings we sell will have a male parent that is unacceptably BBM susceptible, which may or may not result in the seedling itself being unacceptably susceptible. This is not ideal, but is similar to or better than the case for available hybrid hazelnut seedlings from other sources. In some cases, we are also able to track BBM resistance back to the selection’s maternal parent plant at Badgersett.

7. Bush height and shape. Selections run the gamut from short shrubs with skinny stems, to very tall bushes with thick wood and a very upright growth habit, to everything in between. Mature height and growth habit are highly heritable, so we’re designating seedlings as either short-statured or tall-statured.

Short-statured plants work well for hand harvest and the direct-from-the-bush harvesters currently being used to mechanically harvest hybrid hazels in the Upper Midwest, particularly if you maintain a disciplined coppice cycle (which you should!).

Tall-statured plants work well for hand harvest and are much easier to integrate with grazing animals, because most of the nuts grow above where livestock can reach them and the bushes are stout enough not to be easily bent or knocked over, once established. As they mature, tall-statured plants get too big for mechanical blueberry harvesters to pick efficiently. Larger straddle harvesters (e.g. olive harvesters) have been used successfully and will almost certainly be required. They will also have practical limits; the height and width of the bushes need to be restricted by coppice, pruning, hedging, or some other method on a regular basis; you can’t let them keep growing forever and ever and expect to mechanically harvest efficiently. 

If you’re so inclined, tall-statured bushes are also more amenable to being trained to grow as a 1-3 stemmed tree (like commercial European hazel production in Oregon) and being maintained via traditional orchard pruning.

Currently, most of our large-nut selections are tall-statured.

8. Extreme characteristics that are potentially useful for breeding (like unusually high numbers of nuts per cluster). We’re keeping these to ourselves, at the moment. Inquire further if interested.