Hornbeam trees are a deciduous broadleaf tree native to the south of the UK, but widely planted elsewhere.
Scientific name: Carpinus betulus Family: Betulaceae
UK provenance: native
The name hornbeam comes from the hardness of its timber – ‘horn’ means ‘hard’ and ‘beam’ was the name for a tree in old English.
Hornbeam is often confused with common beech, the bark is pale grey with vertical markings, sometimes with a short, twisted trunk, which develops ridges with age. The twigs are brown-grey and slightly hairy and the leaf buds are similar to beech only shorter, and slightly curved at the tips. Mature trees can reach a height of 30m and live for more than 300 years.
Leaves: a similar shape to beech leaves – oval, toothed and with pointed tips. Hornbeam leaves, however, are smaller and more deeply furrowed than beech leaves. They become golden yellow to orange before falling in autumn.
Flowers: hornbeam is monoecious, meaning male and female catkins are found on the same tree.
Fruits: after pollination by wind, female catkins develop into papery, green winged fruits, known as samaras.
Hornbeam is very hardy and will grow in any soil type. Once your plants are in the ground, give them a very light trim by snipping off the top bud from the end of each stem – this will encourage them to become bushier. When your hedge is mature, you can make it keep its autumn foliage during winter by giving it a light trim in late spring and again in early August. If necessary, carry out heavier pruning work in winter.