Hazelnuts are one of North Dakota and Minneosta's wild edible native plants. Some find it hard to believe that there are nuts growing in the Red River Valley and all of eastern North Dakota along many lakes, rivers, and streams.
Thirty years ago the first hazelnuts were collected to see if they would grow in the Fargo area. They were collected from northern Minnesota along the Roseau River in 1979. These nuts were growing in heavy clay soil along the river. My father-in-law informed me that they were picked for food when he was young (a job he disliked). After finding that these grew here, hazelnuts were then ordered from several nurseries. However, most of these plants tended not to make it through the winter. If they did grow, the male catkins had frost damage and did not open. When traveling in North Dakota, several more plants were located. The nuts were picked and grown to identify the best plants that would grow in the Red River Valley soil.
In 1998 hybrid hazelnuts were ordered from Badgersett Farm (now known as Badgersett Research Corporation- http://www.badgersett.com/) located in southern Minnesota. These plants that made it through the winter were crossed with the wild plants that were already established in the area.
With the wild and hybrid hazelnuts growing together, the plants produced larger crops. These nuts were tested for size, taste, and planted again in the fall. The second generation of hybrid plants showed extensive mixture of characteristics and traits. Each year, every hazelnut planting has a few plants that really stand out from one another. Once these produce nuts, those nuts are planted to see if the new plants will be even better.
The diversity of the American hazelnut crossed with the hybrid plants will produce good locally adapted cultivars for home garden and commercial growers.