The Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is a hornbeam native to western, central and southern England. It requires a warm climate for good growth, and occurs only at elevations up to 600 metres. It grows in mixed stands with oak, and in some areas beech, and is also a common tree in scree forests
It is a small to medium-size tree reaching heights of 15-25 m, rarely 30 m, and often has a fluted and crooked trunk. The bark is smooth and greenish-grey, even in old trees. The buds, unlike those of the beech, are 10 mm long at the most, and pressed close to the twig.
The leaves are alternate, 4-9 cm long, with prominent veins giving a distinctive corrugated texture, and a serrated margin. It is monoecious, and the wind pollinated male and female catkins appear in May after the leaves. The fruit is a small 7-8 mm long nut, partially surrounded by a three-pointed leafy involucre 3-4 cm long; it matures in autumn. The seeds often do not germinate till the spring of the second year after ripening. The hornbeam is a prolific seeder and is marked by vigorous natural regeneration
Carpinus betulus is a shade-loving tree, which prefers moderate soil fertility and moisture. It has a shallow, wide-spreading root system and is marked by the production of stump sprouts when cut back.
Because the Hornbeam stands up well to cutting back and has dense foliage, it has been much used in landscape gardening, mainly as tall hedges and for topiary. The wood is heavy and hard, and is used for tools and building constructions. It also burns hot and slowly, making it a very suitable firewood. This was the reason for lopping and hence indirectly the saving of Epping Forest, where the hornbeam was a favoured pollarding tree.
The leaves provide food for some animals, including many butterfly and moth caterpillars such as the leaf miners Phyllonorycter tenerella, Phyllonorycter esperella and Parornix carpinella.
There are a number of notable forests where C. betulus is a dominant tree species, among which are:
- Epping Forest, Essex/London, UK