The Common Hornbeam Carpinus betulus is native to Southern England and is also found throughout Europe and Turkey. It is a medium-sized tree and can grow to 30m. It is common in hedgerows and woods and has been planted in many parks and gardens. Its wood is too hard to be used in general carpentry but has been used in hard wearing tasks such as chopping blocks and cog-wheels. In Epping Forest Hornbeams were pollarded to provide firewood. The tree can be confused with the Common Beech but its oval leaves are toothed not smooth-edged. The bark of the tree is very unusual. It is smooth, like the Beech, but is patterned with distinctive silver-grey vertical lines. Male catkins appear in spring and the bracts that held the fruit hang on the tree through winter. 

common hornbeam tree in august

A mature Common Hornbeam in August.

common hornbeam leaf
The leaf has a very fine point at the end which is sometimes twisted over. The leaf is toothed unlike the Beech leaf which is smooth-edged.
common hornbeam bark
The bark has silvery-grey vertical patterns that are very distinctive.
common hornbeam male catkin
This close-up of a male catkin shows the red ‘anthers’ ready to split open and release pollen on to the wind in mid April. Trees bear both male and female catkins and so are Monoecious.
common hornbeam female catkin
Close-up of a female catkin in April. The flower is not quite ready to receive pollen. When it is, the flower ‘styles’ (shown arrowed) will turn red.
common hornbeam fruit
The fruit develops from the female catkin by August. The fruit is a nut. They are very small  and are difficult to see. Less than 1 cm long, they fall when ripe and are carried by the wind. They are eaten by mice and voles. The nuts are located at the junction between the pairs of 3-lobed ‘bracts’.
common hornbeam bracts in winter
After the nuts have dropped out the ‘bracts’ stay on the tree all winter. Photo taken in December.