Identifying a Hornbeam Tree
A full grown hornbeam will live for up to 350 years (if pollarded or coppiced) and can grow up to 30m tall.
The common beech is often confused for the hornbeam. It has a smooth, stubby and warped trunk, which turns rigged with age. The grey bark is pale and has vertical marking running down them. Twigs have small hairs and are brown to grey in colour. Leaf buds are much like beech buds, only a little bit shorter, with a slight curve at the tips. The leaves are oval shaped, toothed and have pointed tips. They are smaller and more furrowed compared to beech; they also turn from yellow to orange during autumn before they fall.
Hornbeam has a monoecious reproductive system, meaning that the male and female flowers (catkins) are located within the same tree. Once they have been pollinated, usually by wind, they turn into paper thin fruits with wings; these are known as samaras.
Significance to Wildlife
The hornbeam does not shed its leaves and provides all year round shelter for birds, as well as roosting and foraging opportunities.
The leaves are usually eaten by caterpillars of moths such as the nut tree tussock. Small mammals will eat the seeds during autumn, along with small birds like tits and finches.
Myths and Legends
It was thought that a tonic made from the tree useful for curing sleepiness and fatigue. The leaves were also used to heal wounds.
How we use hornbeam
The timber has a speckled grain and is cream to white in colour. You’ll find this wood is very strong and durable, and has many uses for making flooring and furniture.
Historically it was used for making ox-yokes (this is a wooden beam that gets fitted on the shoulders of an ox so it could pull carts along), as well as chopping blocks for butchers and parts for water and wind mills. It was also used to make poles from pollarded and coppiced trees.
The wood burs very well and is often used to make charcoal and firewood.
Threats, Pests and Diseases
As with most trees, the hornbeam can be vulnerable to some fungal diseases, particularly Phytophthora. Grey squirrels can also cause damage to trees by stripping the bark.