- American Hornbeam
- Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’
- Like a nice tall border for your garden? Pleached hornbeam is the way to go
- European hornbeam, Carpinus betulus
- Hornbeam Varieties For Landscapes: Hornbeam Care And Growing Info
- Hornbeam Tree Info
- Hornbeam Varieties
- Hornbeam Care
- Planting hornbeam
- Pruning and caring for hornbeam
- Learn more about hornbeam
- Smart tip about hornbeam
Introduction: A fine-textured tree that is related to the birches, American hornbeam is the only North American native of the genus Carpinus. The trunk and branches of this tree have ridges that look like muscles. American hornbeam is a wonderful addition to a natural landscape. It will tolerate flooding. Songbirds are attracted to its forked branches, dense crown and tasty seeds. Its fall foliage can be beautiful. Culture: American hornbeam tolerates wet sites. It does well in shade, and will perform admirably in full sun, where it becomes more dense and uniform with the proper amount of moisture. It will withstand flooding, and is more tolerant of heat than other members of this genus. It likes deep, fertile, moist, slightly acidic soils, and is hardy to Zone 3. American hornbeam will not tolerate compacted soils, and should not be planted in areas that have undergone grade changes. Although some cankers and leaf spots bother this tree, it is basically disease- and insect-free.
- Native habitat: Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Texas and Minnesota.
- Growth habit: Can be grown as a multistemmed shrub or a single-stemmed tree. More narrow and upright than European hornbeam.
- Tree size: 20 to 40 feet tall, 20 to 30 feet wide. Growth rate is slow, about 1 foot a year.
- Flower and fruit: Flowers are green catkins and bloom from April until June. Monoecious. Male flowers are 1 to 1½ inches long; female flowers are 2 to 3 inches long with three-lobed bracts. Fruit is a 1/3-inch winged nutlet attached to three-lobed bracts.
- Leaf: Simple, alternate, 2 to 5 inches long. Spring foliage changes from crimson to green, then becomes deep green in summer. Fall foliage ranges from yellow to a scarlet tinge.
- Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 3.
American hornbeam is a wonderful addition to small yards, and is also perfect for a natural landscape or as a specimen tree. The hard wood of American hornbeam is used to make golf clubs, tool handles and mallets.
American hornbeam is more difficult to transplant than European hornbeam. It should be transplanted balled-and- burlapped in the spring. The smooth, gray, muscular-looking bark of American hornbeam is attractive year-round. The tree’s look is enhanced by its crooked trunk and pendulous, zig-zagging branches, which help attract wildlife. Finches, ruffed grouse and wild turkeys eat American hornbeam nutlets. The shape of the bud is an identifying difference between the American hornbeam and the closely related European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). European hornbeam has a curved bud. American hornbeam has a straight bud.
The largest known American hornbeam in the U.S. is 69 feet tall and 2½ feet in diameter. It is located in Ulster County, New York.
Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’
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Like a nice tall border for your garden? Pleached hornbeam is the way to go
Hornbeam “is extremely patient of the knife”, as the great garden writer, John Claudius Loudon, put it, which is why it is so extensively used for hedges. At the Chelsea Flower Show this year, Tom Stuart-Smith stretched that patience to the limit by using 30-year-old hornbeams, cloud pruned so that only puffs of foliage were left, balancing at the ends of the branches in a way that I had never seen before.
Like beech, hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) hangs on to its leaves through winter, so that though it’s deciduous, a screen of it provides almost the year-round cover that an evergreen hedge of yew does. In leaf, it hasn’t got quite the shine of beech, the leaves more deeply veined, but for gardeners it is a more forgiving plant. It will put up with the heavy clay spoils that beech loathes and it is tough enough to stand up to wind.
I like it best when it’s pleached to make a kind of hedge on stilts, such as you see beyond the red borders at Hidcote, Lawrence Johnston’s garden in Gloucestershire. He’d spent a great deal of his early life in France and certainly it’s a feature you see more often in French gardens than you do English ones. Getting that particular effect is more complicated (and costly) than just planting an ordinary hornbeam hedge, but there are places where it can be a useful architectural device.
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Say, for instance, you have a boundary wall or fence that is not quite high enough to screen off something you do not want to see. The financial implications of building higher in brick or stone will be even more expensive than pleached hornbeam – and solid walls that are too high can sometimes make the space inside feel like a prison.
So instead of building, you plant, but first you need to get a secure support system in place. At the two ends you need uprights, say 3.7m (12ft) high (or however high you want the finished screen to be). These end posts need to be properly braced, so they do not start to sag towards each other. If you’re planning a long run of hedging, you may need another post in between, so that there is not much more than 5m between each upright.
Then you need to strain horizontal wires between the posts, the lowest about 2m (or at whatever height you want the foliage screen to start, the top one at about 3m and the other two spaced evenly in between – so roughly 33cm apart). Really ambitious stilt hedges will be trained out on as many as seven parallel wires. It all depends where you want to start and where to stop. On a seven-wire frame you would be able to grow a stilt hedge with bare trunks up to 2m and another 2m of foliage on top of that. The structure doesn’t have to look like scaffolding. Use stainless steel cable for the wires if you want a crisp, modern finish.
In late autumn (and certainly if you can before Christmas) plant the hornbeams, setting them 2.5m apart and orientating them so that any likely looking side branches are set parallel to the wires, not pointing fore and aft. Stick a tall bamboo cane behind each tree, then tie the cane to the wires above and the tree to the cane. If there are already some likely-looking side branches growing in the right place and in the right direction, tie them to the parallel wires.
The following summer, tie in the leader as it develops and any side branches that appear in the right places. Rub out any young growth that is obviously not going to be useful (that will include all the growth pointing straight out from the hedge). In winter, check the trees again (and the ties – they mustn’t be too tight) and cut out any unhelpful growth you missed in summer.
Continue to prune and tie in like this until the whole screen is covered with parallel lines of branches. When the leader reaches above the top, bend it over and make it one arm of the last wire (and hope you get a sprout to cover the other side before too long). In subsequent years the main pruning and training will be easier to carry out in winter when you can see what you are doing, but the hedge will also need clipping to shape in summer. Rub out any shoots that appear on the clean, plain trunk below the leafy top. Within four years you should have a decent looking stilt hedge but if all this sounds too much of a fuss, buy ready-trained trees. Majestic Trees have them at £700-£1,000 each. That’s a lot of money, yes, but the higher price buys you a superbly grown pleached hornbeam with a 2m trunk and a head of foliage already 2m high and wide. As you may gather from the DIY description above, you are paying for a lot of the nurseryman’s time. Another advantage of buying the big, ready-trained trees is that you can do without the support structure. You still need to tie the branches of neighbouring trees to horizontal bamboo canes so that they stay straightish and mingle, and you still need, of course, to prune and clip them every year. They don’t stand still – such a problem for the glitzy brigade who treat gardening as a slightly damper form of interior design.
The designer David Hicks used a variation on the stilt theme to great effect. First, he planted an ordinary hornbeam hedge. Then the stilts were planted in front of it. The hedge behind was clipped to the height at which the foliage of the stilt hedge started. When the whole thing filled out, you got a handsome impression of the stilt trunks rising like Roman columns against the foliage of the hedge tickling them from behind. The whole structure worked in two different vertical planes, one closer to you than the other. Very classy.
Hornbeam is undoubtedly the easiest tree to use for pleaching but others can be used too. Lime is sometimes recommended and was Harold Nicholson’s choice at Sissinghurst. In his diary (20 March 1932) he recorded that “the Hayters have dug the places for the limes” but he got the wrong kind, Tilia x europaea, which suckers. This eventually became such a problem that by 1976, the National Trust, which now owns Sissinghurst, had to replace them with T. platyphyllos. At Erddig in Clwyd, another National Trust property, T. x euchlora was used to make the two double rows of pleached lime that face each other across the central walk. They are used effectively, too, at Lytes Cary in Somerset, where they make a short avenue at the approach to the house, and at Arley Hall in Cheshire.
Hornbeam – Confidence – Guardian of Hardwoods (Knight of Swords)
Genus: Carpinus. Family: Betulaceae.
Hornbeam encourages us to be confident and to flex our muscles, physically and intellectually. It is time to break free of any self-imposed mind-trap that is preventing us from chasing our dreams.
Hornbeam, Carpinus butulus is also referred to as ironwood or musclewood, because of its smooth bark and muscular trunk. Hornbeam is literally named for its incredibly hard wood, which was compared to horns. The word “horn” was combined with the Old English word “beam,”based on the German word for tree (baum). The genus name Carpinus, comes from the Celtic word carr (wood) and pin (head or nail). The wood of hornbeam was typically used to make gears and pegs for waterwheels and windmills.
The phrase “chasing windmills” reminds us to believe in our dreams and to chase after them with confidence and an open heart.
The wood of hornbeam is so dense that when burned its embers become a slow-growing charcoal that can smelt iron. Hornbeams are rarely used for carpentry due to the woods extreme hardness and density. It was used to make screws and nails even after metal became commercially available.
Hornbeam reminds us to have confidence in our ability to endure and to continue on during hard times.
Hornbeams are deciduous hardwood trees in the birch Betula family. There are about 30-40 species that live in temperate regions throughout the northern hemisphere. They resemble beech Fagus trees, based on their smooth gray bark and oval-shaped leaves but the leaves of hornbeam have serrated edges. In folk medicine a tonic made from hornbeam helped to relieve tiredness and exhaustion.
Carpinus betulus, or common hornbeam is native to western Asia and Europe, it was also known as yoke elm. American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana is a shade loving tree native to the eastern half or North America. Hornbeams can live to be 300 years old.
Message: Hornbeam encourages us to remain optimistic even in the face of adversity. This is a time of knowing and trusting in the strength and integrity of our core (heart.) By doing this we gain the confidence in ourselves to pursue our dreams. This is a call to action that reminds us that life is too short to be sitting around and waiting for things to change. We must make the effort to change and begin moving in the direction that is calling us.
Challenge: Not accepting challenges as opportunities for change. Remaining stuck, stubborn, rigid and or weak.
If you liked what you read and want more… you may be interested in having the actual guidebook and card deck. The 204 page full-color book is sold separately from the cards. My goal is to find a publisher who can offer this a set. In the meantime, you can purchase either the book or cards via these links. Thank you for you support. Laural
Tree Spirit Tarot – Return to the Garden of our Soul
Tree Spirit Tarot book available at: Amazon
Tree Spirit Tarot deck available at: Printers Studio
For more information visit: lauralwauters.com
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.
American Hornbeam Cultivars
Native Flame®, Palisade®, Ball O’ Fire™, & Rising Fire®
In a Tree Profile over 10 years ago, I raved about the American hornbeam, Carpinas caroliniana and still feel the same today. With the more recent arrival of several new cultivars which display some of the best characteristics of this species, an update on this tree is in order.
Let’s start with its generic attributes. The pioneer nicknames of “Blue Beech”, “Muscle Tree” or “Ironwood” of the species are suggestive of what a tough Midwest native tree this is. Considered a small tree, the ultimate mature size is approximately 30-feet tall by 20-feet wide. They may grow larger under optimum conditions. It has few, if any, disease or insect pest concerns in this region and as the name implies, has branches “of steel”. In my experience, branches can bend like rubber and not break, which is a good testament for strength. This is a good urban tree characteristic.
Leaves are 2 ½ to 5-inches long and 1 to 2-inches wide, ovate-oblong, acuminate, rounded or heart shaped, sharply and doubly serrate, glabrous, dark green and often lustrous. The seeds are quite unique, appearing as a small, ribbed, seed-like nutlet enclosed by a veiny, irregular 3-lobed bract about 1-inch long. The leaves and seeds are small and thin, and decompose relatively fast, another good urban tree characteristic.
Now let’s talk about these new cultivars. They were selected for reliable and unique forms as well as consistent fall color. Some have a more distinct form than the species: central leader, upright branching, narrow or round. Some have longer lasting fall color.
When choosing trees for urban planting, consider these improved cultivars:
Palisade® American Hornbeam, Carpinas caroliniana ‘CCSQU’. 30’tall and 15’wide. It has a more formal upright, dense canopy with orange yellow fall color and sinewy gray bark on mature trees. Photo courtesy Sunleaf Nursery.Rising Fire® American Hornbeam, Carpinas caroliniana ‘Uxbridge’. 30’tall by 15’wide. This cultivar is possibly as dense, narrow and colorful as the Palisade® but reported to be faster growing and more cold hardy.Native Flame® American Hornbeam, Carpinas caroliniana’ JFS-KW6’. 30’tall and 20’wide. It has upright growth and good red fall color. Leaves hold the fall color longer than the species and it has a slightly narrow and reliable form.Ball O’ Fire™ American Hornbeam, Carpinas caroliniana ‘J.N. Globe’. 15’tall by 15’ wide. This is a compact globe formed tree with excellent orange-red fall color. It is slow growing and adapts to many sites.
The American Hornbeam should be considered both a garden, as well as a street tree, especially if grown with high enough crown clearance. As a garden or yard tree, the branch structure can develop incredible character with or without your help, twisting and turning, improving with age. As a street tree, the American Hornbeam and its cultivars should be considered as one of those “Bullet Proof” selections. It can grow into maturity and become tougher over time
Hornbeams are all slow growing in the nursery, especially the cultivars. They are relatively easy to transplant when proper transplanting techniques are followed. Root flare is modest and root growth does not appear to be aggressive, so potential infrastructure damage is probably low to non-existent. I have seen them grow relatively well in ridiculously small street tree planter openings where they seem to adapt to the space. Because of their slow growth, you will pay a little more for them at the nursery but they are worth it in the long run! Only moderate corrective and training pruning will be needed. With enough soil volume, they will be there for a long time. Be patient and enjoy.
Let me know if you have comments on these or other nursery trees for street and landscape use.
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Hornbeam Varieties For Landscapes: Hornbeam Care And Growing Info
A lovely shade tree suitable for most settings, American hornbeams are compact trees that fit the scale of the average home landscape perfectly. The hornbeam tree info in this article will help you decide whether the tree is right for you, and tell you how to care for it.
Hornbeam Tree Info
Hornbeams, also known as ironwood and musclewood, get their common names from their strong wood, which rarely cracks or splits. In fact, early pioneers found these trees ideal for making mallets and other tools as well as bowls and dishes. They are small trees that serve many purposes in the home landscape. In the shade of other trees, they have an attractive, open shape, but in sunlight, they have a tight, dense growth pattern. You’ll enjoy the hanging, hop-like fruit that dangles from the branches until fall. As autumn arrives, the tree comes alive with colorful foliage in shades of orange, red and yellow.
They provide top quality shade for both humans and wildlife. Birds and small mammals find shelter and nesting sites among the branches, and eat the fruit and nutlets that appear later in the year. The tree is an excellent choice for attracting wildlife, including some highly
desirable songbirds and swallowtail butterflies. Rabbits, beavers and white-tailed deer feed on the leaves and twigs. Beavers use the tree extensively, probably because it grows abundantly in habitats where beavers are found.
Additionally, children love hornbeams, which have strong, low-growing branches that are perfect for climbing.
American hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana) are by far the most popular of the hornbeams grown in the U.S. Another common name for this tree is blue beech, which comes from the blue-gray color of its bark. It is a native understory tree in forests in the Eastern half of the U.S. and southernmost Canada. Most landscapes can handle this medium-sized tree. It can grow up to 30 feet (9 m.) tall in the open but in a shady or protected location it isn’t likely to exceed 20 feet (6 m.). The spread of its sturdy branches is nearly equal to its height.
The smallest hornbeam variety is the Japanese hornbeam (Carpinus japonica). Its small size allows it to fit into tiny yards and under power lines. The leaves are light and easily cleaned up. You can prune Japanese hornbeams as bonsai specimens.
The European hornbeam tree (Carpinus betulus) is seldom grown in the U.S. More than twice the height of American hornbeam, it is still a manageable size, but it grows incredibly slowly. Landscapers generally prefer trees that show faster results.
Hornbeam growing conditions are found in all but the southernmost tips of the U.S., from U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. They grow in sun or shade and prefer organically rich soil.
Young hornbeams need regular irrigation in the absence of rain, but they tolerate longer periods between waterings as they age. Organic soil that holds moisture well can help cut down on the amount of supplemental watering. There is no need to fertilize hornbeam trees growing in good soil unless the foliage is pale or the tree is growing poorly.
Hornbeam pruning depends on your needs. The tree requires very little pruning for good health. The branches are very strong and seldom require repair. You can trim the branches up the trunk to make room for landscape maintenance if you’d like. The lower branches are best left intact if you have children who will enjoy climbing the tree.
Columnar European Hornbeam
Columnar European Hornbeam
(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)
Height: 35 feet
Spread: 15 feet
Hardiness Zone: 5a
Other Names: Common Hornbeam
A very rigid and shapely specimen tree, also makes a great allee or tall hedge tree to line a road or driveway; very densely branched, one of the very best trees for rigid landscape form, tends to be formally used in Europe
Columnar European Hornbeam has forest green foliage throughout the season. The pointy leaves turn yellow in fall. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant. The smooth gray bark adds an interesting dimension to the landscape.
Columnar European Hornbeam is a dense deciduous tree with a strong central leader and a narrowly upright and columnar growth habit. Its average texture blends into the landscape, but can be balanced by one or two finer or coarser trees or shrubs for an effective composition.
This is a relatively low maintenance tree, and should not require much pruning, except when necessary, such as to remove dieback. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Columnar European Hornbeam is recommended for the following landscape applications;
- Vertical Accent
- Mass Planting
Planting & Growing
Columnar European Hornbeam will grow to be about 35 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 15 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 3 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live to a ripe old age of 120 years or more; think of this as a heritage tree for future generations!
This tree does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.
Hornbeam or blue-beech is a common tree in our forests, and it also appears in many parks and gardens.
Major hornbeam facts
Name – Carpinus
Family – Betulaceae
Type – tree
Height – 30 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary
Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – spring
It is just as interesting as as a standalone as it is when part of a hedge or even to form tree tunnels.
Hornbeam can be planted both as a standalone or as part of a hedge.
To make a hedge, space trunks apart by 3 feet (1 meter).
- Hornbeam will tolerate part sun perfectly.
- It prefers cool locations to warm ones, and doesn’t like places with a high exposure to sunlight.
- Soil quality isn’t really relevant, as long as it stays relatively cool.
- Whatever your situation, check our guidelines for planting.
If the climate in your area is very hot in summer (South, South-East or South-West), try growing European hop-hornbeam instead, which is a similar-looking and very beautiful ornamental tree better suited to that climate.
Pruning and caring for hornbeam
Note that hornbeam is a plant with what is called marescent leaves. This means that although the leaves die off in fall, they remain attached to the tree until the following spring.
Only outstanding climate conditions like snow or strong winds will lead the leaves to falling off entirely.
- When part of a hedge, there is no restriction on how much you can prune.
Prune according to the shape you plan to give it and how much the tree has grown.
- When the tree stand isolated as a standalone, it doesn’t need any pruning.
It’s natural bearing actually looks quite appealing when left to grow on its own.
If ever you have to prune your hornbeam tree, best do it in fall when the leaves have dried up, it is the best season for that.
As for diseases, hornbeam is very resistant and will not show any particular weakness.
Learn more about hornbeam
Hornbeam is a common tree in our gardens and forests.
Often used in woodworking for its hard, white wood, it is also a very elegant tree bearing dense, green leaves as it grows in soft, soothing shapes.
It is very easy to care for and won’t cause you any problems whatsoever. This makes it a very easy tree for any gardener to grow!
The Carpinus genus contains nearly 40 species, the most common of which is Carpinus betulus.
Note, lastly, that hornbeam produces excellent firewood fuel thanks to its elevated heat-producing properties.
Smart tip about hornbeam
Select young hornbeam specimens for your hedges or if you want a fast-growing tree!
Also check on the color the leaves take on, because some varieties grow green and others carry deep purple leaves.
In both cases these are deciduous, and the dried-out leaves stay on the branch during winter and will fall out under the gentle push of fresh spring sap.
Also, if ever you purchase furniture made from hornbeam, you’re the proud owner of an item built from one of the hardest woods ever!