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The Hornbeam

UK Garden Centre - Information about the Hornbeam tree

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Family Betulaceae
Carpinus Betulus

The Hornbeam appears to be a real native of the south-east and midland counties of England, and possibly of Wales. A line drawn from Worcestershire to Norfolk roughly marks the limit; north of that line the Hornbeam appears to have been planted, as also in Ireland.
As an indigenous species it has had some doubts thrown upon it because there are some records of specimens having been introduced during the fifteenth century, but that is not sufficient ground upon which to deny nationality. Persons have been known to bring home from distant parts, as treasures, wild plants and ferns that were growing within a few miles of their own homes.
The Hornbeam is frequently passed by as a Beech, to which it has a very close superficial likeness, but a comparison of leaves, flowers, or bole would at once make the differences obvious. It is usually found in similar situations to the Beech, though it does not ascend so far up the hills as that species. On dry, poor soil it does not attain its full proportions and may only be classed as a small tree; but when growing on low ground, in rich loam or good clay, it reaches a height if seventy feet, with a girth of ten feet. It two measurements of the bole’s diameter be taken at right angles to each other, they will be found to differ greatly. A section of the trunk will not show a circular outline, but rather an ellipse, the bole appearing to have been flattened on two sides.
The bole is coated with a smooth grey bark, usually spotted with white.
The leaves are less symmetrical than those of Beech, and are of rougher texture, hairy on the underside, and their edges are doubly toothed. In autumn they turn yellow, then to ruddy gold, but a few days later they have settled into the rusty hue they retain throughout the winter, in those cases where they remain on the tree until spring.
The two kinds of catkins are similar and cylindrical, but whilst the male is pendulous from the beginning, the female is erect until after the formation of the fruit, when it gradually assumes the hanging position. The bracts of the male are oval, with sharp tips, each containing from three to twelve stamens. In the female the bracts fall early, but their place is taken by three-lobed bracteoles, which enlarge after flowering and become an inch or an inch and a half long. A single flower occupies each bracteole, consisting of a two-celled ovary and two styles. Only one cell develops, so that the hard green fruit contains but one seed.
The appearance of these fruits in autumn as they hang in a spray from the underside of the branches is quite distinct from those of any other of our native trees.
The wood is exceedingly tough, and not to be worked up with ease, but it is considered to make admirable fuel. It is said to burn like a candle. The carpenter is not pleased who has hornbeam to work up, for his tools lose their edge far too quickly for his labour to be profitable.


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