TREES & plants

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.

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
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Dry sites
  • Alkaline soil
Soil Preference: 
  • Alkaline soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Medium tree (25-40 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Narrow
  • Pyramidal
  • Round
  • Upright
Landscape Uses: 
  • Windbreak
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Hedge
  • Screen
Time of Year: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Late winter
  • Late summer
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

40 to 60 feet high and 30 to 40 feet wide; pyramidal, becoming rounded at maturity

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

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

Columnaris  (Carpinus betulus 'Columnaris'):  a distinctly upright columnar to narrow  habit; densely branched with dark green foliage; creates strong vertical lines.