TREES & plants

European hornbeam

Summer foliage of European hornbeam.

European hornbeams are excellent in groupings around large buildings and also useful as screens, hedges, and windbreak trees. The European hornbeam has densely textured foliage and handsome, slate-gray smooth to fluted bark. The dark green leaves turn an attractive yellow in the fall, and the bark and buds are ornamental in winter.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name: 
Carpinus betulus
All Common Names: 
European hornbeam, upright hornbeam, common hornbeam
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • City parkway, 
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Hedge, 
  • Massing, 
  • Parkway/street, 
  • Screen, 
  • Specimen, 
  • Windbreak
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet), 
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Mature Height: 
40-60 feet
Mature Width: 
30-40 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily), 
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Moderately Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Intolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Tolerant
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color, 
  • Persistent fruit/seeds, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Narrow, 
  • Pyramidal, 
  • Round, 
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Transplants Well: 
  • Moderate
  • Birds, 
  • Insect pollinators, 
  • Small mammals
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

Adaptable to various soil pH.
Minimal pruning required.

Disease, pests, and problems

No serious problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Europe and Asia.

Bark color and texture

Smooth and steel gray, but having a muscled character to its appearance, older trees  become more fluted.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, texture, and color

Simple, alternate, oblong, doubly serrated, with prominent veins; 2 to 5 inches long.
Leaves are dark green changing to yellow late in season.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Inconspicuous; tiny male flowers in pendulous catkins in April; small female flowers near the ends of the twigs.
European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)photo: John Hagstrom

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Light brown nutlets, maturing in Oct., with a  three-lobed bract appearing as an umbrella over the nuts; nutlets and bracts in dangling clusters.
Bracts change from light green to yellow in fall.

Cultivars and their differences

Emerald Avenue® European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus 'JFS-KW1CB'):  40 feet high and 30 feet wide with a broadly pyramidal habit.  Good heat tolerance.

Frans Fontaine European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus 'Frans Fontaine'): 35 feet high and 15 feet wide with a narrow habit; maintains a fastigiate form longer than 'Fastigiata'.

Upright European hornbeam  (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’):   30 to 40 feet high and 20 to 30 feet wide;  oval, narrow habit.


Carpinus betulus or European hornbeam