Hornbeam trees make wonderful stately ornamental trees in rural and urban settings, with the deciduous autumn-coloured leaves often holding on as a feature through winter. The dense foliage provides a refuge for wildlife and makes Hornbeam trees suited to screening, hedging and avenue planting. Choose from natural rounded to formal upright shapes and even a pleached form.
Catkins appear in spring, with male and females flowers on separate catkins that reside on the same tree. They are wind pollinated, with the pollinated female catkins developing into samaras (winged fruit).
The leaves of Carpinus betulus are deciduous, but hold onto the branches long after they have turned their autumn colours and often remain until the fresh growth comes through in spring. This behaviour is similar to Beech trees, although Hornbeam are actually in the birch family, Betulaceae. This trait, combined with their dense foliage, makes Hornbeam trees particularly suited to hedging, providing privacy and keeping out both noise and wind.
Hornbeam trees are ideal for planting in a range of conditions. They are particularly tough, being hardy and tolerant of exposure to the elements. They are also a good alternative to Beech trees when conditions are slightly damp.
If a clear stem is desired, you can prune the lower branches off young Hornbeam trees. They develop a well-balanced canopy with little help from us and established Hornbeam trees only require tidying up by removing crossing or damaged branches.
Carpinus betulus is native to the UK, as well as other parts of Europe and Asia. Within the UK, it is mostly found in ancient woodlands around Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent, as well as ornamental gardens. The name Hornbeam is derived from the Latin 'horn' in reference to the hardiness of the wood and 'beam' the Old English for tree. Carpinus is the ancient Latin word for the species.
Hornbeam trees have a rich history within folklore. A tonic was made from the leaves to treat tiredness and exhaustion and the leaves were commonly used to prevent bleeding and heal wounds.
Hornbeam produces a very hard timber, known as Ironwood. As it is difficult to work, it is not commonly used in carpentry however when a particularly hard wood is needed it comes in useful. Examples of hornbeam uses include: piano actions, carving boards, tool handles, parquet flooring, chess pieces and gears in early machinery.