The genus Carpinus includes hornbeam trees, which are a kind of deciduous, blooming hardwood tree. Hornbeams have a large canopy of dark green, ovate leaves with serrated borders, and slender clusters of yellowish flowers. They are decorative landscape trees. In-home garden settings and parks, common hornbeam tree species include the American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) and European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus).
The most common types of hornbeam trees are covered in this article. These lovely landscaping trees can be identified by their descriptions and photographs. If you want a beautiful shade tree for your garden, check out whether a hornbeam tree is appropriate.
Hornbeam Tree Facts
Belong to the Betulaceae family of trees and have a broad canopy with autumn colors ranging from yellow to red. One species (Carpinus caroliniana) is native to North America and another (Carpinus betulus) is native to Europe, making for a total of 41 hornbeam tree species.
Little to medium-sized trees between 20 and 82 feet (6 and 25 meters) tall are referred to as native hornbeam trees. The European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’) is the most widely grown hornbeam cultivar. Being suitable for growing as a hedge plant, privacy screen, or natural fence, this columnar landscape tree has a pyramidal form and thick canopy.
With a thick oval or vase-shaped crown, the hornbeam tree is a deciduous tree. With its short, twisted trunk, it stands out in the landscape and is easily recognized. Ovate leaves with serrated borders make up the thick canopy. Yellow catkins, or drooping slender flower clusters that turn into papery winged fruits, bloom on the hornbeam tree.
Monoecious deciduous trees are what hornbeam trees are called. This implies that on separate catkins, a single tree produces male and female flowers. A little fruit (nut) protruding from a winged papery bract is the wind-dispersed propagator of the hornbeam tree. There are 10 to 30 seeds per catkin.
The tree’s characteristics and hardness of the wood are described by the common name hornbeam, which belongs to the Carpinus genus. The term “beam” comes from the Old English word for a tree, and the hornbeam timber is as hard as “horn.” Hornbeam trees are most happy in full sun or partial shade and can be found growing on most soils if they are well-drained. USDA zones 3 through 9 are ideal for hardy American hornbeam trees. In zones 4 to 7, the European hornbeam is winter hardy.
The average annual growth rate of hornbeam trees is 12 inches (30 cm) per year, which is rather slow. The American hornbeam tree grows to be 20 to 30 feet (6 – 10 meters) tall and lives for up to 150 years. The height of the European hornbeam ranges from 40 to 60 feet (12 to 20 meters).
With age, the smooth gray or blue-gray bark of European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) trees forms fluted furrows and ridges. Hornbeam trees’ typical bark is very thin and wears away quickly. The grayish-brown bark of immature hornbeam trees is hairless.
Hornbeam tree leaves have sharply serrated margins and a toothed apex. They are bright to dark green in color and have an ovate shape. The pointed leaves of the hornbeam have a quilted or pleated look due to the deep veining. In the fall, the hornbeam tree’s distinguishing leaves take on hues of yellow, orange, or red. 2″ to 4″ (5 – 10 cm) long leaves
Drooping slender catkins with a yellowish-green color are seen on the European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus). In the spring, small, cylindrical flower clusters emerge, but they have no distinguishing features. Male flowers are 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long, while yellow female catkins are 3 inches (7.5 cm) long.
The immature (left) and adult (right) fruit of European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) are small, oval brown nuts. A papery serrated enclosure called a samara protects the hornbeam nut. In the fall, brown hornbeam fruits develop, and they may stay on the tree through the winter. Small animals and birds are drawn to the fruit.
How to Identify Hornbeam Tree
In the landscape, a hornbeam tree is easy to spot. With spreading crooked branches, it has a small, twisted trunk that forms a thick vase-shaped or oval canopy. Hornbeams have drooping yellowish catkins and brown papery samaras, as well as distinctive blue-gray bark. In the fall, the hornbeam tree turns gold.
Common Types of Hornbeam Trees
- European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)—The 40 to 60 ft. (12 – 20 m) tall medium-sized deciduous tree It has deep veining and serration that alternate on branches, as well as distinctive dark-green ovate leaves. The dense oval or vase-shaped spreading crown of the European hornbeam is distinctive.
- Columnar European Hornbeam or ‘Fastigiata’ (Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris’)—The pyramidal crown of the common hornbeam stands out. Densely growing ovate or oblong leaves with double serration combine to create the narrow, columnar crown. This 30 to 40 foot (9 to 12 m) tall, 15 to 20 foot (4.5 to 6 m) broad columnar deciduous tree
- American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)—The symmetrical vase-shaped canopy and thick foliage of this little deciduous tree distinguish it. Oblong or egg-shaped leaves with double serrated margins and prominent veins characterize the American hornbeam. The tree grows to be 20–30 feet (4.5–9 meters) tall and broad.
As a stunning and functional hedge, the European hornbeam ‘Fastigiata’ is ideal. The columnar European hornbeam tree is simple to prune into a privacy screen or impenetrable hedge because to its dense foliage, compact growth, and tight branching.
The fastigiata form of the deciduous European hornbeam is a good hedge tree that thrives in poor growing conditions such as drought, wet soils, and strong winds. Moreover, as a deciduous hedge between 3 and 16 feet (1 and 5 meters), the shrub-like tree is simple to manage with regular pruning. For growing as a hedge, hornbeam trees have the same characteristics as beech trees.
Types of Hornbeam Trees (with Pictures) – Identification Guide
Three of the most common hornbeam trees have distinguishing features that we’ll look at in more detail.
European Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
The European hornbeam is a landscape tree with beech tree-like characteristics that can be found throughout Europe. The rounded, vase-shaped crown, densely growing dark green leaves, and golden yellow, slender cylindrical flowers that bloom in April or May identify the hornbeam tree.
The height and width of European hornbeam trees range from 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 meters). When young, European hornbeam trees have a pyramidal shape. In ten years, a slow-growing hornbeam tree can grow up to 10 feet (3 meters). With time, the thick canopy assumes an oval form and an irregular shape, becoming more rounded. Hornbeam trees have a lifespan of up to 300 years and are robust and hardy.
USDA zones 4 through 8 are suitable for the European hornbeam. The tree may grow in clay or loam soils and thrives best in partial shade or full sun. The tree’s popularity is due to its drought-tolerant nature, although it can withstand wet weather on occasion.
The ovate-shaped leaves of European hornbeams are a distinctive feature. The smooth, hairless surface of the dark green pointed leaves. The blades, on the other hand, have a ridged or quilted look due to their doubly serrated edges. The beech tree leaves, which are 2″–4″ (5–10 cm) long, look like hornbeam leaves.
The botanical name betulus refers to the leaves of the European hornbeam tree (Carpinus betulus). On bare branches in the spring, yellow drooping catkins appear. Depending on whether the flowers are male or female, they measure between 1.5″ and 3″ (3.8 – 7.5 cm) long. The fruit develops into hard nuts with papery shells after blooming.
Because the fruit stays on the tree until winter, hornbeam trees are not considered messy. European hornbeam trees have a light gray bark with a fluted appearance that is characteristic of the species. Rounded furrows develop on a short stem of the smooth gray bark. Hornbeam trees are particularly easy to identify in the winter landscape because of their unusual appearance.
Hornbeam trees, especially Carpus betulus, are well-known for their heavy hardwood bark. The timber is valued for creating lasting equipment, pianos, and structures because of this quality. Moreover, because it burns for a long time, chopped hornbeam wood is ideal as firewood. The tree is popular in landscape gardening, especially as a tall hedge or topiary, because to its slow growth habit, hard wood, closely growing branches, and dense foliage.
European Hornbeam Leaves: The ovate form of the hornbeam tree leaves, with double serration and prominent deep veins, is readily identified. In the fall, before they drop, the leaves become golden yellow.
European Hornbeam Bark: When young, the hornbeam tree bark is smooth, gray, and fluted furrows appear gradually as the tree ages.
Columnar European Hornbeam or ‘Fastigiata’ (Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris’)
The little trunk, low branches, tightly growing dark green foliage, and columnar habit distinguish the Columnar European hornbeam as a pyramidal tree. With a 15 to 20 ft. (4.5 to 6 m) wide spread, the Fastigiata hornbeam grows 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 meters) tall.
Simple leaves with double serrated borders characterize the tall slender columnar European hornbeam tree. The leaves have a ridged appearance due to serration and deep veins on the ovate-shaped dark green blades. The columnar tree makes an excellent hedge plant due to its dense canopy.
The columnar European hornbeam has naturally robust branches, much as all hornbeam trees. As a result, little pruning is required to build a sturdy framework. When growing as a privacy screen in a row, the trees’ only pruning is required to keep them at the same height and form. The columnar hornbeam tree has smooth, light gray bark with brown patches and is also known as the pyramidal European hornbeam. The bark of the slender tree, like that of the Carpinus betulus, becomes furrowed as it ages.
The columnar hornbeam tree produces catkins of white flowers when it is in bloom in late spring. The ends of upward-growing branches carry these little flowers. Hornbeam fruit forms after it blooms. The little hard, brown nuts are packed in a papery winged case, awaiting for the wind to disperse them. The European hornbeam Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris Nana’ is a great option for a small garden if you’re looking for a dwarf hornbeam tree. It grows 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) tall and 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m) wide. In the autumn, the slow-growing conical tree turns a magnificent yellow with thick black leaves.
Columnar European Hornbeam Leaves: The pyramidal hornbeam tree has a distinctive leaf shape that stands out. The 2- to 4-inch (5 – 10 cm) long jagged dark green leaves. The bright yellow color of the hornbeam foliage in the autumn is called Fastigiata.
Columnar European Hornbeam Bark: The smooth, gray-barked pyramidal European hornbeam has a distinctive fluted pattern.
American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)
The American hornbeam is a double-serrated leafed native small ornamental hardwood tree with pendulous golden-yellow catkins. It is a descendant of the Carpinus caroliniana. The hornbeam tree’s pyramidal or vase-shaped canopy and thick development are characteristics that identify it in a landscape. American hornbeams reach a height of 20 to 40 feet (6 to 12 meters) and a width of up to 30 feet (9 meters).
Multi-stemmed shrub-like trees or single-stemmed specimen trees are the types of American hornbeam trees that grow. In naturalized woodlands, the small, slow-growing landscaping tree thrives in the shade. The tree, on the other hand, flourishes as an understory tree in deciduous woods in its natural environment.
The American hornbeam tree has a narrower and more upright growth habit than the European hornbeam. Furthermore, the Carpinus caroliniana grows in USDA zones 3 through 9 and is hardier in colder regions. The American hornbeam grows well in full shade, in contrast to other hornbeam trees.
The bark of the American hornbeam is blue-gray. The tree is also known as blue beech because of its resemblance to beech trees. Due to the tree’s strength, it is also known as musclewood or ironwood. Since it commonly grows alongside rivers and streams, it is also known as water beech.
From April, American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) flowers have dangling green and orange or reddish-brown catkins. The tubular blooms aren’t particularly noticeable. Hornbeam fruit clusters emerge after the flowers are finished. These little oval nuts sway from trees, resembling hops.
The American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) blooms
This species has a small trunk and low branching habit, similar to many other varieties of hornbeams. In a garden landscape, its upward-growing, narrow form with its bent trunk and pendulous, zig-zagging branches adds visual drama. In addition, as a lovely shade tree, the hornbeam tree is perfect for growing near a patio or deck.
American Hornbeam Leaves: Carpinus caroliniana’s leaves have doubly serrated borders, deep veins, and a ridged patterned appearance. They are ovate or lance-shaped leaves with a ridged pattern. The 2″ to 5″ (5 – 13 cm) long simple leaves grow alternately on branches. The orange, red, or yellow hues of the American hornbeam leaves in the autumn.
American Hornbeam Bark: The bluish-gray bark on this hornbeam has a “muscular” appearance. With loose scaly plates, the smooth bark becomes slightly rougher in time.
American Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
The hop-hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana, is a species of tree with a similar common name as the genus Carpinus. It’s a distinct genus from regular hornbeams, despite being connected to beech trees. The hop-hornbeam, with birch-like serrated leaves, shaggy light brown to dark brown bark, and clusters of golden yellow hop-like catkins, is a small, slender deciduous tree. The spreading oval or spherical canopy of the American hop-hornbeam has a smooth outline.
This tree may grow up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall and broad, with a trunk diameter of 20 to 40 feet (6 to 12 meters). The tree’s name comes from the catkins, which resemble dangling hops on the ends of branches. Eastern hop-hornbeam, leverwood, and woolly hop-hornbeam are some of the other names for the tree.
The doubly serrated borders and lanceolate or ovate form of American Hop-Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) leaves The leaves are serrated and range in color from yellowish-green to dark green, measuring 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) long. The leaves of this small tree are similar to those of a birch tree.
The hop-hornbeam’s bark is reddish brown-gray, with narrow strips that peel off the trunk when it splits.
The American hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) has a growth pattern that makes it difficult to tell apart from elm trees. Hop-hornbeam leaves lack an asymmetrical base, whereas elm leaves do. This is how to differentiate hop-hornbeam trees from elm trees.