Carpinus is Latin for “hornbeam;” betulus means “birch-like” because the tree looks similar to a birch tree.
Hornbeam refers to the dense, horn-like wood, and the use of the wood to make beams and ox-yokes. Another name is common hornbeam.
NATIVE RANGE AND HABITAT
European hornbeam is native to Europe, Asia Minor and southeastern England. The species is most dominant in southeastern England and western France. Trees typically grow in sandy woods.
Not native to Kentucky
Growth Habit and Form
European hornbeam is a deciduous tree growing 10’ in 10 years to 40-60’ in height at maturity. Trees are pyramidal when young becoming rounded with age. The cultivated variety ‘Globosa’ has a round or spherical shape with no central trunk. Trees are slow growing and at maturity may reach 15 to 20’ in height.
Leaves are alternate, simple, and ovate with sharply and doubly toothed margins and a pointed tip. Leaves are 2 ½ to 5 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. Leaves are dark green in summer and turn yellowish in autumn.
Hornbeam is a monecious species, having both male and female on the same plant. Male catkins are 1½” in length. Female flowers are 1½ to 3” long with conspicuous 3-lobed bract. The flowers bloom in April and are not particularly showy.
Fruit is a ribbed nut(let) that is borne at the base of a leafy bract. Leafy bracts hang in clusters. Fruit matures in September through October.
Mature wood is beautifully fluted and a handsome slate gray.
Wild and Cultivated Varieties
Several cultivars offer excellent color, texture and form.
‘Asplenifolia’ presents deeply cut leaves.
‘Columnaris’ is densely branched with a central trunk and narrowly columnar outline.
‘Pendula’ has a weeping habit and was cultivated before the 1870s.
European hornbeam is an excellent landscape tree. Trees can be used as specimens, in groupings or as hedges.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 7.
Slow to moderate
Cultivation and Propagation Information
Trees do best in moist, well-drained soils. Trees tolerate light shade but prefer full sun. European hornbeam is relatively drought and wind tolerant and somewhat tolerant of environmental stresses. Propagate hornbeam by seed and vegetative cuttings. Cold stratification will overcome seed dormancy.
Diseases and Insects
The fruits and buds are eaten by a variety of birds.
Hornbeam withstands heavy pruning and shearing. It is often used as a hedge or allee.
TRADITIONAL AND MODERN USES
Hornbeam is often described as the hardiest, heaviest and toughest of woods. The wood was used for wheel cogs, axils, spokes, tool handles, and butchers blocks.
The wood is used for pianos and many of their working parts.
The wood was used to make wooden screws.
European hornbeam has been cultivated for many centuries. Trees are used extensively in England and continental Europe for hedges and allees.
European hornbeam is also used for bonsai.