Tree of the week | Common Hornbeam – Carpinus betulus
Last time we covered the Common Beech and as I mentioned that Beech can be easily be confused with Hornbeam i though we should take a look at Hornbeam.
Carpinus betulus has leaves similar to Beech trees but they lack the fine hairs found around the edge of Beech leaves. Hornbeam leaves are double-toothed (teeth on teeth) and have 10-13 pairs of close veins which are suck below the surface of the leaf. Carpinus betulus have catkins which are displayed as a curtain of yellow in spring and the fruits are nuts which are partially surrounded by a three pointed leaf. This leaf, or bract, distinguishes the common Hornbeam from the other Hornbeam species. The fruits mature in autumn, of which there are plenty. This makes the tree vigorous in terms of regeneration.
The trees have smooth grey barks which over time develop in to fluted trunks with deep fissures and shallow ridges. It is often found alongside Oak trees and sometimes beech but normally much smaller than either of these. It can grow to 15-25 meters but rarely exceeds 30m.
The leaves are dense and the tree prefers shade. However because of the dense growth it is often used as a hedge. The wood is heavy and hard with a high calorific content making it ideal for chopping blocks, tools or firewood as it burns hot and slow.
Common Hornbeam was traditionally pollarded for it timber and now ancient pollards provide refuges for wildlife. They were pollarded for some time in Epping Forest where they remain a dominant species.